LOS ANGELES – Bonnie Franklin, the actress who created an indelible television character playing a divorced, working mother of two headstrong daughters on the long-running series “One Day at a Time,” died Friday at her Los Angeles home. She was 69.
The cause was complications from pancreatic cancer, her family announced.
By the mid-1970s, Franklin was a theater veteran who had earned a Tony nomination for her performance in the Broadway musical “Applause” when she was offered a different kind of role, one that was not then the usual fare on network television.
Developed by Norman Lear, the new CBS series would tell the story of Ann Romano, a divorced woman in her 30s who was raising two teenagers and building a new life for herself in her hometown of Indianapolis. Franklin’s character wasn’t the first divorced woman on network television; but the role, like those of other characters in Lear’s groundbreaking sitcoms, was infused with a new level of social realism.
Although network executives thought she looked too young for the part, Franklin was “a wonderful actress and woman – she ran very deep – and she was able to pull it off,” Lear told the Los Angeles Times Friday.
On the show, Romano faced the same challenges that many newly divorced women confronted in real life: finding a job for the first time in years and struggling to collect child support payments and pay the bills.
Many episodes detailed the character’s struggles as the all-but-only parent to her daughters: Julie, the older, rebellious one played by Mackenzie Phillips, and Barbara, the younger, less troubled sibling portrayed by Valerie Bertinelli.
Bertinelli said she regarded Franklin as a second mother.
“She taught me how to navigate this business and life itself with grace and humor, and to always be true to yourself,” the actress said Friday in a statement.
Franklin was nominated for an Emmy in 1982 and twice nominated for Golden Globe awards for her portrayal of Romano.
Throughout her career, Franklin remained a multifaceted performer, putting together nightclub acts and taking on both comedic and dramatic roles.
She won critical praise and a Tony nomination in 1970 for her Broadway performance in “Applause,” a musical interpretation of the 1950 film “All About Eve.”
She played the main character in the 1980 CBS movie “Portrait of a Rebel” about birth control activist Margaret Sanger, a serious turn that Franklin described as one of her most significant.
Franklin also turned to directing, including episodes of “Charles in Charge,” “The Munsters Today” and “One Day at a Time.”
In 1980, she married television and film producer Marvin Minoff, with whom she had worked on the set of “Portrait of a Rebel.” They were married until his death in 2009.