Friday, March 1, 2013

Bonnie Franklin, TV feminist hero

I was so sad to read today that Bonnie Franklin, TV feminist hero, died today of pancreatic cancer. From 1975 to 1984 (when I was 11 to 20), Franklin starred in the hit show "One Day at a Time," which was the first successful show to feature a divorced woman and mother of two teenage girls. My formative years were spent watching this show.


I identified far more with the "good girl" (Barbara Cooper, played by Valerie Bertinelli) than the "bad girl" (Julie, played by Mackenzie Phillips, who has had a lifetime battle with drugs and was fired from the show twice), but I loved the characters, the way the show tackled modern issues no other show would address, the fierce independence and love of this family, the quirky side characters, and the feminism. "Ann Romano" took back her maiden name when she got divorced, which was very rare in the 1970s. She refused to marry the man she loved (her rebound lover) because she felt she hadn't really found herself yet.

In April 2011, TV Land gave the cast an "Innovators Award," saying:

"The series, which was a hybrid drama/comedy, addressed such taboo topics as premarital sex, suicide, sexual harassment and more, breaking barriers and paving the way for future shows to tackle these issues as well. Developed and written in part by TV visionary Norman Lear, One Day At A Time aired on CBS for nine seasons from 1975-1984. Starring Bonnie Franklin, Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips as Ann Romano, Barbara Cooper and Julie Cooper, the series revolved around a family headed by a single mother (Franklin) that relocates to Indianapolis, where their new apartment building super, Dwayne Schneider (Pat Harrington Jr.), befriends them."


Reunited in 2008
 (Franklin is wearing an Obama button)
Many years ago I saw Franklin in the Double Musky Inn in Girdwood, Alaska (of all places), when I was on a business trip to Anchorage. I couldn't resist telling her how much I loved her show. As a girl and young woman, I admired her character's spunk, intelligence, and independence (and she was short, although not as short as me)...and from reading about how the show was developed, it sounds like she was the same as an actor. According to the New York Times article, "Ms. Franklin was said to have pushed the producers toward greater realism, urging them to take on issues like teen pregnancy and avoid letting the show lapse into comic shtick." Further, 
"In interviews. Ms. Franklin said she had refused to do anything that might diminish her character’s integrity. In particular, she said, it was important for Ann not to rely on a man to make decisions. But each year she found herself fighting the same fights.
'And I’m not working with insensitive men,' she told The Boston Globe in 1981. 'But the men who produce and write the show still don’t believe me when I present them with the women’s point of view.
'After seven years,' she continued, 'I just want to say, ‘C’mon guys, I’m an intelligent person, why don’t you just trust me?’ I’m so tired of fighting. But you can’t give up.'"
12.28.10 One Day at a Time FINAL O
Kiki and Elton

One of my most memorable scenes from the show was when the cast did a show at a retirement home, and Phillips and Bertinelli dressed up as Elton John and Kiki Dee and sang "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart." My sister Nadine and I did the same thing--me as Elton, her as Kiki--and put on a show for our parents. How I wish I had a photo of that!

Back when I posted about running into Franklin in Alaska, I couldn't find much on Youtube. But today I found a treasure trove for a "One Day at a Time" fan--a reunion show from 2008. Ironically, the actors talk about Phillips' drug use and she says she can't believe she did that back then...although later that year she was arrested again for drug possession. Franklin points out that both Valerie Bertinelli (formerly married to Eddie Van Halen) and Phillips are now single parents themselves. Watching these reunion videos (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) brought me to tears and reminded me how much I LOVED this show:



Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips gave statements to People about Franklin's death:

"My heart is breaking. Bonnie has always been one of the most important women in my life and was a second mother to me.The years on One Day at a Time were some of the happiest of my life, and along with Pat [Harrington Jr.] and Mackenzie [Phillips] we were a family in every way. "She taught me how to navigate this business and life itself with grace and humor, and to always be true to yourself. I will miss her terribly." --Bertinelli
"I am so saddened by the loss of our dear friend, Bonnie Franklin. She was just full of light and love. Bonnie will be very much missed by all the people she touched ... We all loved her very much.” --Mackenzie Phillips

Sadly, Franklin never had natural children of her own, but clearly she touched the lives of her TV children and fans like me. 

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