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'One Day At a Time' star Bonnie Franklin dies at 69

3:13 PM, Mar 1, 2013   |    comments
Bonnie Franklin/AP
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by Robert Bianco, USA TODAY

TV just lost one of its first modern mothers.

Before Bonnie Franklin - who died Friday at the age of 69 of pancreatic cancer - and her hit Norman Lear sitcom One Day at a Time arrived on the scene, most television mothers were either stay-at-home wives or working widows. But Franklin's Ann Romano was something new: a divorced mother of two raising two teenage daughters in a small urban apartment while struggling to relaunch her career and her love life.

In a TV universe just beginning to take note of the real-world social changes happening beyond its screen, the sunny but sometimes hot-tempered Ann and the short, spunky redhead who played her were a breath of fresh (if sometimes hot) air. For nine CBS seasons, from 1975 to 1984, Franklin guided audiences through some of the hot-button issues of the day - premarital sex, sexual harassment, child abandonment - in a show that mixed comedy and soap in equal measure.

Franklin didn't get to sing much on One Day at a Time; a shame, as she garnered a Tony nomination for Applause, a musical adaptation of All About Eve. But she did get to provide parental guidance to two of TV's most fondly remembered teens, bad girl Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and good-girl Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli), sometimes with the unrequested help of the building's super (Pat Harrington Jr.).

Though Day is what's she's best known for, it was far from Franklin's debut. She had a recurring role in Gidget while she was still a college student, and guest roles in such '60s series as The Munsters, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Please Don't Eat the Daisies. But it was that Tony nomination in New York that really brought her to Hollywood's attention, and her role in Day that made her a TV star and Emmy-nominee.

Like many of the topical sitcoms of the '70s, Day has not aged well. What was novel then is now either familiar or forgotten. In truth, in some quarters, it's only still discussed because of the real-world troubles that caused Phillips to be written out of the show twice.

Still, the thought of Franklin shaking her red bob, scrunching her eyes, pursing her lips, or shouting out "Julie!" can still bring a smile to people who grew up with her and Bertinelli - who gave Franklin one of her last roles, in a guest shot in Hot in Cleveland.

She made our TV days better, and for that, she'll always be remembered.

Copyright 2013

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