Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Friday Dance Party: What Is It That We're Living For?

Franklin's final role was as a nun on
The Young and the Restless, a gig she took
to keep her insurance as she battled cancer.
This well-loved 70s sitcom star died last week, after a nasty battle with pancreatic cancer.  She was not one of my favorites, and her TV show, even less so.  But as she was a Tony/Emmy/Golden Globe nominee (but never winner), and as she starred in a situation comedy which is reported to have been a ground breaker (I might take some issue with that), attention must be paid.

Bonnie Franklin
Her greatest fame came as the leading lady of the sitcom One Day At A Time, which had a substantial run of 9 years in the late 70s and early 80s. 
I was not a fan of One Day At A Time. When I did watch, it
was only to tune into the train wreck that was Mackenzie

The premise of the show slipped right into the feminist movement of the period, as it concerned a divorced woman raising two teen-aged daughters on her own.  Franklin's obits last week never failed to mention that the program was a ground breaker, presenting a divorcee in a new and modern light.  Perhaps that was true.  It has also been reported that the show spent a lot of time on social issues of the day, such as pre-marital sex, birth control, suicide, and sexual harassment.  I do not remember the show as being so edgy, but I confess that I rarely watched the thing. 

Franklin owes her biggest success to this lady.Whitney Blake was an actress best known as Hazel's
boss.  Years later, she created One Day at a Time, loosely based on her life with her daughter, Meredith Baxter.
I didn't even remember that the show was from the Norman Lear factory, as it did not seem as relevant as All in the Family, Maude, and Good Times.  Ms. Franklin never grabbed my attention the way Lear's other stars did;  when Bea Arthur, Carroll O'Connor, or Esther Rolle were on screen, you couldn't look away.  As talented as Bonnie Franklin was, she did not have that charisma.

Franklin's earlier career was solidly musical.  She was an accomplished tapper at an early age, and she made her first big splash playing a Broadway chorus girl in the 1970 smash Applause.  Though her stage time was about 10 minutes, she earned a Tony nomination for performing the title number of the show. The role she created is now credited as Bonnie in all productions of Applause.  Her competition for the Tony included her costar Penny Fuller, whose role was substantially larger.  They both lost the award to Melba Moore in Purlie.

In the years since her sitcom folded, Franklin has hit the regional theatre circuit.  Off-Broadway, she assumed one of the title roles in Grace and Glorie, taking over for Lucie Arnaz and starring opposite Estelle Parsons.  She would return to the role opposite Pat Carroll.
Bonnie (second from left) appeared at Fords Theatre in All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten, opposite James Whitmore and Liz Sheridan.
The clip below comes from the Tony Award presentation of Applause.  Back in those days, the segments from musicals were substantially longer than they are today.
Bonnie did not share any scenes with Applause's star, Lauren Bacall, who incidentally, starred in her own Dance Party from the show here.
Bonnie's appearance in
Applause was oh so perky.

This clip gives a pretty good indication of the reasons Applause has never seen a major Broadway revival.  It is most definitely a period piece now, but the writing is cloying and the dialogue unrealistic, even for its time.  The stagey-ness of this scene, which takes place in a bar where Broadway dancers hang out, is laughable now, especially since we have been exposed to the life of a gypsy in a far more realistic fashion in A Chorus Line.  Still, this is the most famous of Bonnie Franklin's musical appearances, so do with it as you will.