R.I.P. Bonnie Franklin: Farewell to One of TV's Coolest (and First) Single Moms

Bonnie Franklin, left, as Ann Romano (with Valerie Bertinelli as daughter Barbara). Photo: Getty Images/CBS Photo …Way before Sara Braverman and Miranda Hobbes there was Ann Romano, divorced single mom to teen girls Barbara and Julie on the show "One Day at a Time." Portraying her with equal parts sweetness and sass was petite redhead Bonnie Franklin, who died today from complications of pancreatic cancer at just 69.

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The show, developed by Norman Lear, ran for nine seasons from 1975 to 1984. Its premise was simple—divorced woman in her 30s builds new life for herself and her girls (played by whacked out Mackenzie Philips and baby Valerie Bertinelli) in Indianapolis—but it packed a complex punch.

“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,” noted an Los Angeles Times obit today.

That was especially important for a little girl, like yours truly, growing up in the ’burbs with a mom and a dad who liked each other. "One Day at a Time" was one of the first shows (and I watched them all) to teach me about other types of families (Three girls? Period?), living situations (A “super”? Named Schneider?), and different ways of relating to a mom, like watching her date and struggle financially and competing with her for the male gaze.

The show bravely tackled a slew of grownup issues, from boys who want you to “go all the way” to drug overdoses and Grateful Dead concerts and bad influences and even artificial insemination. It was exciting! Empowering! But safe, too, because you knew that mom Romano always had her girls’ backs.

And then, of course, there was that song—“This is it! This is life, the one you get, so go on, have a ball!”—just the first joyous piano plunks of which let you know that you were in for a wild, awesome, 30-minute ride.

Thanks, Bonnie, for helping us hold on tight and muddle through.