Actress Bonnie Franklin Dies at 69

Bonnie Franklin One Day at a Time - P 2012

Bonnie Franklin One Day at a Time - P 2012

The “One Day at a Time” star also was a musical standout who earned a Tony nomination for the 1970 hit “Applause.”

Bonnie Franklin, who played a Midwestern divorced mom raising two teenage girls in the long-running Norman Lear sitcom One Day at a Time, died Friday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 69.

Her family announced in September that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was undergoing treatment.

The perky 5-foot-3 redhead also was a versatile cabaret performer and veteran of the stage who collected a Tony Award nomination in 1970 for her role as a gypsy in the original production of the Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical Applause. That made her one of the youngest performers to ever receive the honor.

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Franklin was nominated for an Emmy Award and two Golden Globes for her work as Ann Romano on One Day at a Time, which aired on CBS from December 1975 to May 1984. It co-starred Mackenzie Phillips (16 when the show debuted) and Valerie Bertinelli (then 15) as her daughters and Pat Harrington Jr. as Schneider, the colorful superintendent of their apartment building. 

The series was developed for Lear’s T.A.T. Communications Co. by the husband-and-wife writing team Whitney Blake and Allan Manings and based on Blake’s real-world experience raising her daughter, future Family Ties mom Meredith Baxter.

Franklin’s Romano was a pioneering TV character: a divorced mom raising teenagers and trying to enter the job market. She relocated with her kids downstate to Indianapolis in a quest to “find herself.” Like All in the Family and Maude -- two other acclaimed Lear shows of the era -- One Day at a Time mixed realistic drama with comedy and tackled taboo such topics as birth control, teen runaways, virginity, suicide and sexual harassment. In one storyline, Franklin became engaged, only to have her beloved killed by a drunken driver.

“As soon as we went on the air, we started receiving a lot of letters,” Franklin once said. “The letters were saying: ‘This is my life. This is what I’m going through. This is what my mother is like.’ And so we pretty quickly got the idea that we were touching something.”

One Day at a Time also attracted headlines away from the CBS Television City set, with Phillips being fired in 1980 because of problems relating to her drug addiction. She returned only to be fired again and written out of the show.

One Day at a Time peaked in the Nielsen ratings at No. 8 for the 1976-77 season and was a consistent top-20 performer despite being shifted around the CBS schedule during its nine-season run.

Franklin, whose father was an investment banker in Los Angeles and founder of the Beverly Hills chapter of B’nai B’rith, was born Jan. 6, 1944, in Santa Monica. She appeared on The Colgate Comedy Hour at age 9 and had a small role in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956).

After attending Beverly Hills High School and then UCLA as an English major, she served as an understudy for Sandy Duncan in the 1968 off-Broadway show Your Own Thing, then bowed on Broadway opposite Lauren Bacall and Len Cariou in Applause, a musical version of the 1950 movie All About Eve.

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The production won the Tony for best musical, and Bacall was honored as best actress in a musical.

Franklin’s credits also included recurring roles on the 1960s sitcoms Gidget and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and guest turns on such shows as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Munsters, The Love Boat and Touched by an Angel. She reunited with Bertinelli for a 2011 episode of Hot in Cleveland and appeared on the daytime soap The Young and the Restless in 2012.

She also paid tribute to her parents, Sam and Claire Franklin, with an autobiographical television special Bonnie & The Franklins, in which she sang and danced and saluted her family known for their annual New Year’s Eve celebratory performances in honor of her father's birthday.

Franklin also directed 12 episodes of Munsters Today, a 1988-90 series that updated the 1960s monsters spoof, and Charles in Charge. In recent years, she appeared on stage in such productions as Love & Guilt, Grace & Glorie, Steel Magnolias and My History of Marriage.

Franklin was married twice, the second time for 29 years to producer Marvin Minoff. They met on the set of the CBS telefilm Portrait of a Rebel: The Remarkable Mrs. Sanger (1980), which starred Franklin as birth control activist Margaret Sanger. Minoff died in 2009.

Franklin was devoted and longtime activist for a wide range of charities and civic-oriented issues, among them AIDS care and research and The Stroke Association of Southern California.

In 2001, along with her sister Judy, she founded the nonprofit organization CCAP (Classic and Contemporary American Plays). Partnering with the Los Angeles Unified School District, CCAP’s mission is to introduce and implement great American plays into inner city schools’ curriculum.

In addition to Judy and Claire, survivors include stepchildren Jed and Julie; grandchildren Maya and Natasha; godson Adam; sister Victoria; and brothers Bernard and Richard.

A private memorial will be held next week. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to CCAP (11684 Ventura Blvd. #437, Studio City, CA 91604).