Tuesday, March 12, 2013

My Pal, Bonnie

This post was written by Byron Nease, longtime close friend and former co-star of Bonnie's.

As a performer, I’ve learned that both words and music have vast power, but they also remind me about being mute in the face of some moments.  Death of a loved one - especially a Bonnie - woven like a long golden thread in the fabric of my history, teaches me how inarticulate I can be.  I wish I knew language to convey comfort to those she loved most.

Many of you knew her – some not.  And so I wanted to take a moment for those who didn’t, to paint a personal portrait of her that goes beyond ‘Applause’, her success in television and on stage these past few years in so many  plays, club acts, her tap-dancing videos – her work to bring the classics to high school students – as an advocate for the Stroke Association and a devoted family member – I don’t know that I have ever seen anyone (and actually all of the Franklins) so beautifully enmeshed in and supportive of each other’s worlds.

What makes a sister? - Forgive my presumption at applying that to the woman who across the past 25 years became my best friend – yet has been more family to me than my own.  Her family and especially her amazing sisters have generously embraced me - and I count myself lucky to be an ‘adopted’ member of the Franklin clan.  So, beyond genetics or common parenting – family, I think - is a meeting of minds and spirits.  All of these.  The Franklin’s family theme song ‘The Family is the Rock’ was a new concept in my world, but clearly a constant in theirs.

I met Bonnie playing opposite her in a Summer-Stock tour of ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’  And I fell in love with her eight times a week the summer of 1988. 

On stage, Bonnie was a great and shameless conspirator, pulling pranks and antics from the sides of the stage that I can in no way describe to you with any sense of dignity.  The word shameless comes to mind, but that was a quality we both shared.  When my Dad came to visit me that summer, Bonnie (who knew he had been an Evangelical minister) ran up to him and said: “You know, your son is my ‘stage husband!’ – and, as was his style, he swept her up in his arms and without skipping a beat said “Thank God - at last he has a wife!”   We all knew that’s the only way that would ever happen …

I’ve never known a friend or colleague without some wonderful story or great antidote about her - usually funny, generally filled with admiration - and - as I said before, often pranks that – well, left you laughing even if I cannot put them in print.  And in many ways, Bonnie taught me how to play – she taught me compassion and optimism in the midst of circumstances, not because of them.  I also learned from her, that we can laugh at that which we hold sacred, and still hold it sacred.

A consummate professional, she forged her way on her own terms - not defined or rather confined by conventional standards as she attacked issues on ‘One Day At A Time’- long before anyone else. 

Funny, smart, effervescent, rebellious, irreverent, political, devilishly charming and able to incite times together where I would find myself weak with laughter, totally disarmed by her outrageous honest and assessment of that which most people would avoid.  

Bonnie never judged me.  She just loved me for all of who I am. She demonstrated that in being a good friend, she left me with all my freedom in tact; but - obliged me to be fully who I am.

As the Wizard said to Dorothy (75 years ago this month) “A heart is not measured by how much you love, but my how much you are loved by others.”  And in that sense, she may have had the biggest heart I’ve ever known.

We both made many trips to see each other - to remain a part of each other’s worlds, from coast to coast – night club acts to book launches – nothing was too big or too small an event.  Bonnie knew on a primal level that we all belong to each other and claimed the kinship of her family and friends. 

In the haze of dealing with some of life’s most challenging issues, her no nonsense wisdom and heart of loving optimism - punctuated my world.

 That, was Bonnies’ gift.  She was a lifter of lives! 

Somewhere in the Scriptures, comes the council to rejoice with those who laugh and weep with those who mourn.  It occurs to me that this is not so much an injunction, but something we must do and what we all do naturally … when we love. 

When I laughed with Bonnie - when we that knew and loved her laugh through our tears - we honor the best in us all.  Our kinship.

Kahlil Gibran said: “When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see the truth - you are weeping for that which has been your delight ...”

I weep for that delight of my friend.  I am grateful to have lived in the shadow of her heart.

Byron Nease

Byron is dedicating the following upcoming performance to Bonnie.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Your story... how did Bonnie affect you?

I've seen so many stories around the web now of people who were profoundly affected by something Bonnie did, either as herself or one of her characters.  We'd love people to share their stories in this topic.

"I'm listening!  Tell me all about it!"

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Donations in Bonnie's Memory

The family requests that anyone wishing to make a donation in Bonnie's name do so to the organization she helped found, Classic and Contemporary Plays.  CCAP’s Outreach Program offers performances, post-show discussions and in-school workshops with the actors for Junior and Senior High School students throughout the Greater Los Angeles Area. These performances are an integral part of the curriculum and are often a student’s first live theatrical experience.  

You can make a donation through their website.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Link dump: Obituaries and retrospectives

This topic is for collecting links around the web published since Bonnie's recent passing.  I will start with a straight reprint of the New York Times obit, which was an edited/enhanced version of what the family released.

Bonnie Franklin, Steadfast Mom on ‘One Day at a Time,’ Dies at 69

Bonnie Franklin, whose portrayal of a pert but determined Ann Romano on the television show “One Day at a Time” in the 1970s and ’80s spun laughter out of the tribulations of a divorced woman juggling parenting, career, love life and feminist convictions, died on Friday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 69.
The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer, family members said. They had announced the diagnosis in September.
Ms. Franklin also acted on the stage and in movies and for years sang and danced in a nightclub act. But she was most widely known in the role of Ann Romano, one of the first independent women to be portrayed on TV wrestling with issues like sexual harassment, rape and menopause. Ms. Franklin — green-eyed, red-haired, button-nosed and 5-foot-3 — brought a buoyant comic touch to the part.
Some saw the show as helping feminism enter the mainstream.
“I know it’s just a television show, and I don’t think that I am changing the way the world is structured,” Ms. Franklin told The Washington Post in 1980, but she allowed that “sometimes we strike chords that do make people think a bit.”
“One Day at a Time” ran from December 1975 to May 1984, and its ratings ranked in the top 20 in eight of those seasons and in the top 10 in four. Ms. Franklin was nominated for an Emmy Award and twice for a Golden Globe.
The show’s topicality fell squarely in the tradition of its developer, Norman Lear, who had gained renown for introducing political and social commentary to situation comedy with “All in the Family” and other shows. Its co-creator was Whitney Blake, a former sitcom star who, as a single mother, had reared the future actress Meredith Baxter.
Like Archie and Edith Bunker in “All in the Family,” Ann and her daughters, Julie and Barbara Cooper (Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli), used comedy in the service of grappling with serious and thorny real-world matters.
As a divorced mother who had reverted to her maiden name and relocated to Indianapolis, Ann fought her deadbeat ex-husband for child support, for example. Or she dealt with a daughter deciding whether to remain a virgin.
Some story lines continued for up to four weeks, as when Julie, to Ann’s consternation, dated a man more than twice her age. In one plot twist Ann’s fiancĂ© is killed by a drunken driver. Later she marries her son-in-law’s divorced father.
Comic relief came from the frequent visits of the building superintendent, Dwayne Schneider (Pat Harrington). But Ms. Franklin was said to have pushed the producers toward greater realism, urging them to take on issues like teenage pregnancy and avoid letting the show lapse into comic shtick.
In her 2009 memoir, “High on Arrival,” Ms. Phillips, who had come to the show after gaining notice in the 1973 George Lucas film “American Graffiti,” said that Ms. Franklin did not want “One Day at a Time” to be “sitcom fluff.”
“She wanted it to deal honestly with the struggles and truths of raising two teenagers as a single mother," Ms. Phillips wrote.
By the time the show ended in 1984, Ann’s daughters had grown and married; Ann herself had remarried and become a grandmother.
In interviews. Ms. Franklin said she had refused to do anything that might diminish her character’s integrity. In particular, she said, it was important for Ann not to rely on a man to make decisions. But each year she found herself fighting the same fights.
“And I’m not working with insensitive men,” she told The Boston Globe in 1981. “But the men who produce and write the show still don’t believe me when I present them with the women’s point of view.
“After seven years,” she continued, “I just want to say, ‘C’mon guys, I’m an intelligent person, why don’t you just trust me?’ I’m so tired of fighting. But you can’t give up.”
Bonnie Gail Franklin was born in Santa Monica, Calif., on Jan. 6, 1944, one of five children. Her father was an investment banker while her mother pushed her children toward the performing arts. The family later moved to Beverly Hills, where Ms. Franklin graduated from Beverly Hills High School.
An excellent tap dancer by 9, she performed on “The Colgate Comedy Hour” in 1953. The next year, she played Susan Cratchit on “A Christmas Carol” on the CBS variety show “Shower of Stars.” In 1956 she had uncredited roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Wrong Man” and the comedy “The Kettles in the Ozarks.” She turned down an offer to be a Mouseketeer on Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Club” television show.
After attending Smith College in Massachusetts, Ms. Franklin transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she graduated with a major in English in 1966. Her marriage to Ronald Sossi, a playwright, ended in divorce in 1970.
She had her breakthrough as a performer the same year, when she was nominated for a Tony for her 10-minute song-and-dance performance on Broadway as a chorus gypsy in “Applause,” which starred Lauren Bacall.
Ms. Franklin also acted in episodes of other television shows as well as in regional theater and movies, mainly ones made for television, notably playing Margaret Sanger, the women’s rights and birth-control advocate, in “Portrait of a Rebel: The Remarkable Mrs. Sanger,” a 1980 movie on CBS. On the Sanger set, she met the movie’s executive producer, Marvin Minoff. They were married for 29 years before his death in 2009.
Ms. Franklin is survived by her mother, Claire Franklin, and her stepchildren Jed and Julie Minoff.
Twenty-four years after her Sanger portrayal, Ms. Franklin spoke to hundreds of thousands of women at an abortion rights march in Washington.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Welcome to Bonnie's Memorial Blog

Greetings, everyone.  Since Julie and I have reached the age of losing loved ones, we've found ourselves turning to online memorials as a proxy for what used to be sitting at gravesites.  I made a memorial blog for my father, and Julie has visited other online places for other close family and friends.   This blog is intended to serve the same purpose for Bonnie, and I will be happy to authorize her family and close friends to make your own posts on this blog.

Of course with Bonnie, there's another dimension - her celebrity.  It's been amazing since her passing to see how much she meant and still means to so many people out there.   A lot of them have been posting online, it's OK to see thoughful, respectful posting here, though I will probably start out moderating it.  I've also noticed that the family is interested in reading stories out Bon, so I'll set up some posts for people to link to coverage on the web.  Bonnie's fans can help us by posting links here, as a kind of group-curated centralization of content.

Hope this works out.  I encourage all posters to use real names.


(Photo from a 2011 workshop production of History of Marriage)