What drove Michele to dedicate herself to one character for 14 years?

"The things that I loved about my character - the things I loved with Karen, Mack (Kevin Dobson) and Val (Joan Van Ark) were when we were able to show our comedic talents as actors,” Michele said in an extended interview with the website www.knotslanding.net. “I believe that was inherent in so many of the scenes."

Karen got along famously with everybody in the neighborhood, with the exception of sister-in-law Abby (Donna Mills). Karen bonded closest with Valene, her next door neighbor. Among the traumas Karen faced, her biggest challenge came when she got hooked on prescription pills.

“Karen's addiction [occurred] at a time when we as a nation were examining our culture and addiction problems,” Michele said. “It was powerful because of the knowledge that addiction could come to anyone, including a First Lady and Karen MacKenzie.”
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   MICHELE LEE as Karen Fairgate MacKenzie in "Knots Landing"
Karen was the Den Mother of Seaview Circle, the heart of the Knots Landing community in the long-running nighttime soap. While other characters cheated on their spouses and murdered and smuggled drugs, the lovable Karen was the group's moral compass.

Michele was the only actor to appear in all 344 episodes of “Knots Landing.” She set the record for the greatest number of consecutive appearances by a leading actress in a one-hour-long prime time dramatic series, a record that stood until 2008 when S. Epatha Merkerson of “Law & Order” broke the mark.
Michele was the most dedicated “Knots Landing” actor of the ensemble. In fact, when the production company informed the cast members that it could only pay them to work 15 of 19 episodes during the final season, Michele -- and only Michele -- worked the last four episodes for union scale wages.

A spinoff of “Dallas,” “Knots Landing” centered around four married couples who resided on a cul-de-sac in a coastal southern California suburb. “Knots” aired for 14 seasons (1979-93), becoming network TV's second longest running drama after “Gunsmoke.”

"I think the show as drama was so much more than just a soap,” she told interviewer Don Grigware in 2010. “The first year we were on, we were self-contained stories. The second, they decided to make us continuing stories.

“We had unbelievable competition on the other networks, but we became a hit. As soon as we became a hit, the other series started to have continuing story arcs as well.”
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As Michele struggled through a divorce from actor husband James Farentino in real life, her character also faced some of the same troubles.

"When I was a single parent in the third or second season, I was a single parent in my personal life,” she said. “So feelings that were happening in my personal life, things that happened with my girlfriends, they would take pieces of us and you'd see that turn up in an episode."

Karen never became a grandmother, a stipulation Michele demanded – she had a clause in her contract that she couldn't become a grandmother on the show.

“I know it might sound like ego...far from it,” she wrote on her website, www.micheleleeonline.com. “It was a business option to prolong a career.”

Born Michele Lee Dusick in Los Angeles as the daughter of makeup artist Jack Dusick, Michele attended high school with future “Knots” co-star Michelle Phillips. She broke into entertainment as a dancer and singer.
After “Knots Landing,” Michele starred in many TV movies. She played novelist Jacqueline Susann and country music singer Dottie West, recording all the songs in the film, in the late 1990s.

In 1997 Michele became the first woman to star in, write, direct and produce a film for cable TV with “Color Me Perfect.”

Michele was nominated for another Tony in 2001 for her role in “The Tale of the Allergists Wife.”

Michele and the “Knots” crew reunited for a two-part mini-series “Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac” in 1997 and “Knots Landing Reunion: Together Again” in 2005.
After high school she journeyed to New York to make it on Broadway, and she quickly made a name for herself. At age 19 she starred on the Broadway production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

Michele was signed as a singer by Columbia Records and she made numerous guest appearances as a singer and dancer on live TV shows, most notably “The Danny Kaye Show” in 1963.

She reprised her role as Rosemary for film in “How to Succeed...” (1967), and followed that up with the popular Disney movie “The Love Bug” with Dean Jones, and “The Comic” with Dick Van Dyke.

Back on Broadway, Michele was nominated for a Tony for Best Actress in 1974 in the musical “Seesaw.”

On television during the 70s, she guest-starred in episodes of “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island,” and “Love American Style.” She was signed to star in a proposed sitcom “The Michele Lee Show” in 1974, but the series never got off the ground after the pilot was aired.
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Linda Evans "The Big Valley" "Dynasty"
Michele Lee "Knots Landing" Karen Fairgate MacKenzie
Michele Lee "Knots Landing" Karen Fairgate MacKenzie
Joanna Kerns "Growing Pains" Maggie Malone Seaver
Joan Van Ark "Knots Landing" Valene Ewing
Priscilla Presley "Dallas" Jenna Wade
Linda Gray "Dallas" Sue Ellen Ewing
Morgan Fairchild "Flamingo Road" "Falcon Crest"
Donna Mills "Knots Landing" Abby Cunningham
Victoria Principal "Dallas" Pamela Barnes Ewing
Heather Locklear "Dynasty" "TJ Hooker" "Melrose Place"
Michele Lee "Knots Landing" Karen Fairgate MacKenzie
Judith Light "Who's the Boss?" Angela Bowers
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