Home Doll house Norman Lear Explains How He Knew Bonnie Franklin Had to Play Mom in Comedy

Norman Lear Explains How He Knew Bonnie Franklin Had to Play Mom in Comedy


The 1970s situation comedy One day at a time was a hit right out the door. Starring Valerie Bertinelli as Barbara Cooper, Mackenzie Phillips as her sister Julie Cooper and Bonnie Franklin as their mother Ann Romano, the program was one of the first to feature a single mother as the title character. .

The cast of the CBS comedy was none other than producer Norman Lear, who shared his memoir Even this I can experience that choosing Bonnie Franklin was a no-brainer.

Left to right: Mackenzie Phillips, Bonnie Franklin and Valerie Bertinelli in a scene from “One Day at a Time” | CBS via Getty Images

‘One Day at a Time’ was a groundbreaking new comedy in the 1970s

In his book, Lear provided background for the series which ran for nine seasons on CBS beginning in 1975.

It all started when producer/screenwriter Allan Manings and his wife, Whitney Blake, who starred in the 1960s sitcom Hazelnut, came up with the idea for a television comedy centered around a divorced woman raising two teenage daughters. Clearly, the show proposal was a labor of love for the couple, considering they had persisted in looking for a TV home for a decade, according to Lear.

“’What happened to Ibsen’s Nora after she left the dollhouse?’ was the question they were asking, and they had been trying to sell the show for 10 years,” he wrote. “As the father of three daughters, including two teenage girls, I loved the idea, and over time we developed Ann Romano, his daughters Julie and Barbara, and a story that saw them move to Indianapolis after Ann’s divorce in an apartment building.”

Lear said he “fell in love” with Franklin for the role of Ann Romano

For the role of older sister Julie, Lear said Phillips, ‘popular for her role in George Lucas’ american graffiti and daughter of John Phillips”, of the 1960s group The Mamas and the Papas”, was a “shoo-in”.

Bertinelli, he said, “had a certain resemblance to my youngest daughter, Maggie”, and was quickly hired to play Barbara.

As for Franklin, Lear added, “we’ve read a number of actresses who would have been good in the role. [of Ann Romano]but Manings and I fell in love with Bonnie Franklin, whose appearance and personality clashed with the general perception of a divorced woman and mother of teenage daughters.

The actor, whose blue eyes and short red hair made her look younger than her age, was chosen to play the mother of the teenagers, a detail that did not escape CBS. The network initially resisted hiring Franklin, Lear said, envisioning protests and criticism from a character who appeared to have become a teenage mother herself.

“Bonnie was 31 at the time, and she looked 31 years young,” Lear recalled. “There was also a certain courage and a certain fire in his personality which added to his youthful appearance. We found her irresistible, but we didn’t think the network was unreasonable in advising her against choosing her as the mother of teenage daughters, one of whom was 16.

Despite CBS’s warning, Lear took a chance on Franklin, and ultimately it paid off.

From left to right: The cast of

From left to right: The cast of “One Day at a Time”: Valerie Bertinelli, Bonnie Franklin and Mackenzie Phillips in 2003 | Jim Spellman/WireImage

Valérie Bertinelli said Frankin was like another mother to her

In his memoirs To losethe old Hot in Cleveland the star described meeting Franklin, died in 2013 pancreatic cancer for the first time.

“She hugged me and said, ‘I’m going to be your new mother.’ Then she introduced herself to my mom, “I’m her new mom.” We loved her immediately.

While Franklin had red hair, just like Bertinelli’s mother, the actor wrote that was where their similarities ended: “The only thing my mother and Bonnie had in common was red hair and freckles. At only 31, Bonnie wasn’t old enough to be my mother.

Bertinelli expressed gratitude for the “special way” in which Franklin “drew me in and brought us together. She was like a hip, younger complement to my real mother.

RELATED: “One day at a time”: Valerie Bertinelli “hated kissing” this guest of “Brady Bunch” in the comedy