Bonnie Franklin, of the freckled, fair-skinned, hazel-eyed, rosy-cheeked, carrot-haired variety, could light up a room with her buoyant, folksy personality, but she could be quite serious in a take-charge manner when it came to purposeful acting work. It took Norman Lear and a highly popular TV sitcom to finally make the 31-year-old performer a household star in the mid-1970s.
She was born Bonnie Gail Franklin in Santa Monica, California on January 6, 1944, the daughter of Samuel Benjamin, an investment banker, and Claire (née Hersch) Franklin, both of Jewish descent. She was thrust onto the stage at a very young age as a child tap dancer and became the protégé of consummate tapper Donald O’Connor. At age 9, she performed with O’Connor on NBC’s The Colgate Comedy Hour (1950). A year later, she performed as one of the Cratchit daughters in the Shower of Stars (1954) TV version of “A Christmas Carol”, starring Fredric March and Basil Rathbone as “Scrooge” and “Marley”, respectively. The young girl then appeared, unbilled on film, playing sweet young things in the rural comedy, The Kettles in the Ozarks (1956), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956) and the Sandra Dee/Troy Donahue’s box office tearjerker, A Summer Place (1959).
At age 13, the family moved from Santa Monica to upper-scale Beverly Hills. Graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1961, Bonnie studied at Smith College for a time where the freshman co-ed acted in an Amherst College production of “Good News”. She then transferred to UCLA and majored in English. Following her studies, she returned to TV and appeared in lightweight comedies that welcomed her perky, pixie-like presence. These included mid-to-late 1960s episodes of Mr. Novak (1963), Gidget (1965), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964), Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1965) and The Munsters (1964). In 1967, she married Ronald Sossi, a playwright best-known for his writing/producing chores on the TV series, The Rat Patrol (1966). The marriage, however, was short-lived and ended in 1970.
It was on the musical stage that Bonnie found breakthrough success. Following diligent work in “Drat the Cat!” (1965), “Your Own Thing” (1968), “George M.!” (1969) and “Dames at Sea” (1969), she took her first Broadway curtain call in “Applause”, the well-received 1970 musical version of All About Eve (1950), starring Lauren Bacall. Bonnie played a theater “gypsy”, named “Bonnie”, who sings and dances to the title song backed by her “band of gypsies”. Bonnie won the Outer Critics and Theatre World awards and a 1970 Tony nomination for her effort here. She continued on the stage with prime roles in “A Thousand Clowns” (1971), the title role in “Peter Pan” (1973), and the revue “Oh, Coward!” (1975). It wasn’t until Bonnie was handed the prime role of “Ann Romano”, a divorced mom raising two daughters (Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli) on One Day at a Time (1975), did she become a viable star. Although her contagious cheerfulness and beaming smile was part of her value on the comedy show, Franklin desired to focus on taboo TV subjects such as divorce, birth control, sexual harassment and suicide, as well as getting laughs. While the program didn’t match the ground-breaking importance or success of an All in the Family (1971), the show did command consistent and respectable ratings (“Top 20” for seven of its nine years) and lasted on CBS until 1984. Bonnie received one Emmy nomination and two Golden Globe nominations during the sitcom’s run, and managed to find time to squeeze in a few other TV-movie projects as well — A Guide for the Married Woman (1978), Breaking Up Is Hard to Do (1979), the title role in Portrait of a Rebel: The Remarkable Mrs. Sanger (1980) and Your Place… or Mine (1983). Bonnie also directed episodes of One Day at a Time (1975), Karen’s Song (1987) Charles in Charge (1984) and The Munsters Today (1987).
Following the show’s demise, Bonnie seemed to keep a lower profile on camera, focusing instead on theatre roles and in several humanitarian efforts. Sporadic guest roles on Burke’s Law (1994) (revived), Almost Perfect (1995) and Touched by an Angel (1994) was highlighted by a 2005 TV reunion with her One Day at a Time (1975) TV family, The One Day at a Time Reunion (2005). Her return to the theatre, after a break of 14 years, included roles in a variety of plays: “Happy Birthday and Other Humiliations” (1987), “Annie Get Your Gun” (1988) (as “Annie Oakley”), “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” (1988), “Love and Guilt and the Meaning of Life” (1990), “Grace & Glorie” (1996), “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” (1997), “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1999), “Same Time, Next Year” (2000), “Dancing at Lughnasa” (2003), “A Touch of the Poet” (2005), “A Delicate Balance” (2007) and as crotchety “Ouisar” in “Steel Magnolias” (2011). In addition, she put together and toured in her own cabaret act and appeared in nearly a dozen staged readings with Los Angeles’ Classic and Contemporary American Playwrights. Bonnie was a tireless activist for a variety of charities and civic-oriented issues, among them AIDS care and research and the Stroke Association of Southern California. More recently, Bonnie reunited with “One Day at a Time” daughter Valerie Bertinelli in a 2011 episode of Bertinelli’s sitcom, Hot in Cleveland (2010), and, a year later, played a recurring nun in the daytime The Young and the Restless (1973). In September of 2012, Bonnie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died several months later on March 1, 2013. Her second husband of 29 years, TV/film producer Marvin Minoff, who produced Bonnie’s TV movie, Portrait of a Rebel: The Remarkable Mrs. Sanger (1980), as well as the film, Patch Adams (1998), died in 2009.
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