She was Archie Bunker for single working mothers — a TV character who managed to encapsulate cultural shifts and changing attitudes for a generation families affected by divorce.
Actress Bonnie Franklin, who died Friday at age 69 of complications from pancreatic cancer, had a tough assignment as the star of the Norman Lear-produced sitcom “One Day at a Time,” which ran on CBS from 1975 to 1984. She had to bring an earthy humor to the Ann Romano character — a recently divorced woman who moved to a new city with two teenage daughters — and still reflect the trials of being a single parent and a woman in search of new romantic relationships.
Franklin, by all accounts, was the reason the show had such impact and such staying power. Lear noted that Franklin had a dynamic, unfailingly positive personality.
“Bonnie was such a life force,” Lear said in a statement. “Bubbly, always up, the smile never left her face.”
Valerie Bertinelli, who played younger daughter Barbara on “One Day at a Time,” said Franklin was like a “second mother” to her.
“Bonnie has always been one of the most important women in my life,” Bertinelli said. “She taught me how to navigate this business and life itself with grace and humor, and to always be true to yourself.”
Franklin was active with stage and cabaret shows throughout her career, and also worked as a helmer for “One Day at a Time” and other sitcoms.
A Santa Monica native, Franklin had showbiz aspirations growing up as the daughter of a successful investment banker. She made her television debut at the age of 9 dancing with Donald O’Connor on “Colgate Comedy Hour.” She continued to log TV roles as a teenager on shows including “Gidget,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” and “The Munsters.” After attending Smith College and graduating from UCLA, she made her debut on Broadway in the tuner “Applause,” which earned her a Tony nom in 1970.
Franklin’s run in the musical drew the attention of Lear and “One Day at a Time’s” husband-and-wife creators Allan Maning and thesp Whitney Blake, who based the show on her experiences. In addition to Bertinelli, the sitcom starred Pat Harrington Jr. as Dwayne Schneider, the apartment building superintendent who helped look after the family, and Mackenzie Phillips as older daughter Julie. Phillips had widely publicized struggles with substance abuse during her tenure on the series.
Franklin’s work on the show earned her an Emmy nom in 1982 and two Golden Globe mentions. She also remained active on stage, and toured with an autobiographical cabaret act in the early 1980s. She starred in several telepics, most notably as the women’s health advocate Margaret Sanger in “Portrait of a Rebel: The Remarkable Mrs. Sanger.” She paid tribute to her parents, Sam and Claire Franklin, with the television special “Bonnie & The Franklins.”
In 1980, Franklin married “Portrait of a Rebel” producer Marvin Minoff, who died in 2009. Later in her career, she helmed episodes of such sitcoms as “Charles in Charge,” “The Munsters Today.” In recent years she logged acting roles on “Almost Perfect,” “The Young and the Restless” and “Hot in Cleveland,” opposite Bertinelli.
Franklin’s roots in theater spurred her to establish Classic and Contemporary American Plays, an educational initiative that offers L.A.-area high schools a curriculum for studying plays and staging readings with professional thesps.
Survivors include her mother, two sisters and two brothers, two stepchildren and two grandchildren.
A private memorial will be held next week. Donations may be made to the CCAP org, 11684 Ventura Blvd., No. 437, Studio City, CA 91604.