Bonnie Franklin, star of ‘One Day at a Time,’ dies at 69

March 1, 2013

Bonnie Franklin, the spunky, ginger-haired stage performer who became best remembered as the independent-minded divorcee with two teenage daughters on the long-running sitcom “One Day at a Time,” died March 1 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 69.

Ms. Franklin announced in September 2012 that she was undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. Family members confirmed the death.

“One Day at a Time,” which was produced by Norman Lear and aired on CBS from 1975 to 1984, resonated with audiences at a time when divorce rates were climbing and the stigma of divorce was diminishing. The show was a comedy, but it also touched on the emotion and economic toll of divorce in an era when women were beginning to have greater career opportunities.

Ms. Franklin’s character, Ann Romano, struggles to raise two daughters (played by Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli) while working in the advertising business in Indianapolis. She tries with mixed success to console her daughters after their panic attacks and rash decisions involving boys. And she rolls her eyes at the farcically macho come-ons supplied by the seedy building superintendent (Pat Harrington Jr.).

“Even though Ann Romano was not the first divorced woman on TV, she embodied that subject matter in a way that had not been done before,” said Syracuse University television scholar Robert Thompson.

“The show focused on a young divorced woman who was getting by, but also she had a sense of being flustered and exasperated,” Thompson said. “She was by no means the perfect mother who had all the perfect answers and did everything right.”

Ms. Franklin grew up in California, where her tap-dancing prowess opened the door to television and movie appearances by the time she was 10. She landed a small part in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock drama “The Wrong Man,” starring Henry Fonda, and later appeared in TV shows such as “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “Gidget” and “The Munsters.”

She made her deepest early impression in the 1970 Broadway musical “Applause.” The show-business drama starred Lauren Bacall and was adapted from the 1950 Bette Davis film “All About Eve.” Ms. Franklin, as one of the background “gypsy” dancers who fluttered from show to show, drew acclaim for her rendition of the title song.

In his “Applause” review, New York Times theater critic Walter Kerr described Ms. Franklin as a dervish-like scene stealer: “Shaggily red-headed, with a smile like the one they sometimes paint on lollipops, slapping her chaps and tossing her neckerchief to the apparently high winds, she needs only to be turned loose to take over.”

“Applause” — with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams and a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green — ran two years on Broadway and won the Tony Award for best musical. Ms. Franklin earned a Tony nomination for best featured actress in a musical.

Bonnie Gail Franklin was born Jan. 6, 1944, in Santa Monica, Calif. Her first marriage, to playwright Ronald Sossi, ended in divorce. Her second husband, film and television producer Marvin Minoff, died in 2009 after 29 years of marriage.

Survivors include her mother, Claire Franklin; two stepchildren; and two grandchildren.

For the past three decades, Ms. Franklin staged one-woman cabaret shows in New York but mostly worked in regional theater. She was a vegetarian and once told the Kansas City Star that her greatest fear in performing at dinner theaters was “that the smell of roast beef will hit my nose while I’m performing.”

Adam Bernstein has spent his career putting the "post" in Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person” and to write stories that are “complex yet stylish.”
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