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The Life of Bonnie Franklin: ‘One Day at a Time’ & Beyond

Read about her life and career here


Bonnie Franklin came into the public orbit with her portrayal of Ann Romano on the television series One Day At a Time, where she received an Emmy nomination and two Golden Globe nominations during the sitcom’s run.

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Her freckled, fair-skinned, rosy-cheeked face lit up not only the screen, but every room she entered. It was when this Santa Monica, California native was 9 years old that she made her TV debut on The Colgate Comedy Hour, tap dancing with consummate tapper Donald O’Connor. At age 11, she appeared in a non-credited role in the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Wrong Man, in 1956.

Bonnie Franklin, 1975
Bonnie Franklin, 1975Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The youngster performed in unbilled and small roles throughout the 50s. After graduation from UCLA, where she majored in English, Bonnie Franklin returned to TV and appeared in lightweight comedies that welcomed her perky, pixie-like presence. These included episodes throughout the 1960s such as Gidget, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Munsters, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Hazel.

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It was in the 1970 Broadway musical Applause that she found sound footing on stage and received a Tony nomination. Her recording of the show’s title track was the most successful Broadway song of the season, vocally upstaging the star of the show, Lauren Bacall, which was a feat in itself.

Bonnie Franklin, 1975
Bonnie Franklin, 1975Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Of course, Bonnie wasn’t a name such as Bacall, but her fraction of time on that stage gained a lot of attention that would propel her to several regional theater productions in the Northeast, and the role that would change her life.

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Bonnie’s big break

Mackenzie Phillips, Bonnie Franklin and Valerie Bertinelli
Mackenzie Phillips, Bonnie Franklin and Valerie Bertinelli diannecan/MoviestillsDB

It was divorced mother Ann Romano, raising two daughters on the comedy One Day at a Time, which aired from 1975 to 1984, that brought Bonnie fame, recognition and respect.

Although her contagious cheerfulness and beaming smile was part of her value on the comedy, the actress encouraged writers and producers to address more taboo subjects such as divorce, pre-marital sex, birth control, sexual harassment and suicide, while never losing sight of the fact the show was a comedy.

Bonnie’s ideas broke barriers and paved the way for future shows to tackle these issues as well. With co-stars Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips, these topics were handled with respect and humor, helping the show command consistent and good ratings.

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Valerie Bertinelli, Bonnie Franklin and Mackenzie Phillips, 2003
Valerie Bertinelli, Bonnie Franklin and Mackenzie Phillips, 2003Matthew Peyton/Getty Images

I know it’s just a television show, and I don’t think that I am changing the way the world is structured or whatever. But I do think that not only do we entertain, but sometimes we strike chords that do make people think a little bit. To me, that’s important,” she told The Washington Post in 1980.

In 2005, she was reunited with her One Day at a Time co-stars Bertinelli, Phillips and Pat Harrington for a TV special retrospective, The One Day at a Time Reunion.  

Life after One Day at a Time for Bonnie Franklin

The 'One Day at a Time' actress in 2008
Bonnie Franklin, 2008David Livingston/Getty Images

Following the show’s demise, Bonnie seemed to keep a lower profile on camera, focusing on theater roles instead and became active in several humanitarian efforts. Though there were the sporadic guest roles such as the Burke’s Law reboot and Touched By an Angel.

With her return to the stage after a 14-year hiatus, Bonnie’s roles included Annie Get Your Gun, Grace & Glorie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Same Time Next Year and many more. And if that wasn’t enough for the diminutive thespian, she put together her own cabaret act and toured the country.

The 'One Day at a Time' actress in, 2004
Bonnie Franklin, 2004Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

In 2011, she reunited with her sitcom daughter, Valerie Bertinelli, for an episode of Bertinelli’s sitcom, Hot in Cleveland, and a year later played a recurring role in the daytime soap, The Young and the Restless, as a nun, Sister Celeste.  

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Bonnie Franklin the activist

Don’t let her freckle-faced, carrot-top hair fool you. Bonnie was tenacious when she wanted to be heard. She was a tireless activist for AIDS care and research and the Stroke Association of Southern California.

Valerie Bertinelli and Bonnie Franklin, 2011
Valerie Bertinelli and Bonnie Franklin, 2011Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

In 2012, she was among several stars who appeared at the annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles. It raised more than $200,000 for APLA’s work with clients living with HIV and AIDS in Los Angeles County. She, along with other stage actors, performed songs with which they were associated with.

Unfortunately, she passed away from pancreatic cancer in March of 2013. She had remained friends with her former One Day At a Time co-stars until the time of her death.

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