“You’ve had a taste of the sound that says love!” — “Applause” title song

March 1, 2013

Bonnie Franklin In the summer of 2011, I drove myself and four companions from Rome to the Le Marche region of Italy. That trip involves some serious mountain hills with the obligatory switchbacks and the occasional tunnel. As I rolled into the first tunnel, I was startled to hear from the back seat: “Whenever I feel afraid / I hold my head erect /  and whistle a happy tune /so no one will suspect / I’m afraid.” It was Bonnie Franklin, singing in a quick-step tempo with her eyes shut tight. “I’m afraid of tunnels,” she told us afterward, “so I sing that to take my mind off of  it.” And she did. Every time.

I met Bonnie in 1970 when I stopped by a New Jersey theater where she was appearing in A Thousand Clowns. She had already made a splash on Broadway singing and dancing the title song to Applause. I was there during the break between a matinee and an evening performance to talk to Hugh O’Brian, but he had taken ill and gone to a doctor. Bonnie, who was sitting outside with her Yorkie , Jobie, thought I looked confused. “Are you looking for Hugh O’Brian?” she said. And she told me what had happened.

Bonnie 2I thanked her and was about to leave, but she patted the concrete wall she was sitting on and said, “Sit down here and talk to me!” It was irresistible. Bonnie was irresistible. I sat, we talked. I came back a few days later and we sat and talked some more. We were close friends for 42 years after that.

My family and I became great fans of hers, because she was an outstanding actress, singer, and dancer. I used to kid her that latching on to her was my way to see the country, and we did travel to Manhattan, Nyack, West Hampton, New Hope, Mount Pocono, Pittsburgh, Ventura, Washington, D.C., Overland, Kansas, and some town in New Hampshire to see her perform. I’d pay plenty right now to hear her sing “How Long Has This Been Going On?” or see her in Shirley Valentine. My wife, Pat, says, and I agree, that once you’ve seen Bonnie as Shirley Valentine, you don’t need to see anyone else.

The relationship that evolved between Bonnie and my family was characterized by two qualities of hers: unconditional love and enormous generosity. She was passionate about what she believed. I learned this the second time we met: she was very agitated about the U.S. military campaign in Cambodia. She and I were largely simpatico, but inasmuch as I am a Roman Catholic deacon and she was a progressive Jew, we could disagree about some significant issues. This had no impact on our relationship, and that was because she had such an expansive heart.

Bonnie was very generous to me and to my family, not in a showy way but in a genuine expression of love. It became a running gag between us to see which of us could be first to tell the host at a restaurant not to bring the bill to the table. I told that to a host as soon as I arrived at a restaurant in Maine, and he said, “You’re too late. She beat you to it.” But I think I won the last round — at Joe Allen’s in New York.

Bonnie 5 More important was Bonnie’s generosity for those in need. I happily supported the organizations that were important to her, and she returned the favor to a fare-thee-well. I once told her in a casual conversation that a local nonprofit group I was associated with — to provide an annual festival for people with mental handicaps — was in financial trouble. A few days later, I received a personal check from her with a very large donation. On another occasion she traveled from her California home to New York for the sole purpose of giving a gratis benefit performance for another organization I was connected to, an association that builds and operates group homes for people who are both blind and mentally challenged.

A friend of mine who was a professional fundraiser for non-profits once showed me an article in a journal reporting that a survey of people in that field had found that Bonnie Franklin was perceived by the public as among the most trustworthy spokespersons for charitable causes. I wasn’t surprised. I doubt that a false word ever crossed her lips.

And she was funny. Just naturally funny. Every year on my birthday, I anticipated the phone call — I’m sure I wasn’t the only one — in which Bonnie would sing “Happy Birthday” to me. I wasn’t to speak until she was done, and there was always a second verse (“Get plastered, you bastard.”) Once when she was doing her incomparable cabaret act at the Algonquin Hotel, she wandered among the tables during one of her songs and gave me a hug. When I asked her afterward how she had found me in the darkened room, she said, “Easy. I just followed the smell of Old Spice.” She always took a pass on dessert when we ate out with her and her wonderful husband, Marvin Minoff. That is, she didn’t order dessert. She instructed me to order something chocolate, and then she ate half of it.

She was talented, she was witty, she was sweet, she was warm, she was profane, she was passionate, she was genuine. Now she’s gone. I’m a better person for having known and loved her, and I know I’m not alone. I hope heaven is ready.

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8 Responses to ““You’ve had a taste of the sound that says love!” — “Applause” title song”

  1. Laurie G Says:

    Wow, kid. Just…wow. Fitting tribute.

  2. shoreacres Says:

    I heard about her death on the radio today. I wondered if you’d known her. You certainly did. After reading your tribute, I not only wish I’d known her, I find myself wanting to be more like her. Quite an amazing thing you’ve accomplished here.

    Thank you.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      I’ve never known anyone so magnetic. We’re broken-hearted because she suffered so much and because her time with her family and friends was cut off so suddenly. Still, we thank God for the many years she graced our lives.

  3. Becky Lerner Says:

    I laughed reading this. She sounds like a really lovely person who was great fun to know.

  4. ladyj Says:

    Great tribute, Chuck. She really loved you. Just one correction. She didn’t actually say “bastard” in that second verse. You thought she would but then she’d sing “b…aaad person” instead. Remember? I miss her so.

    • charlespaolino Says:

      Thank you so much. Mine is one of the lives that won’t ever be quite the same without the sound of her voice and her laugh.

  5. Sylvia Marciniak Says:

    Charles, you should write a biography of Bonnie Franklin since she never wrote one herself. Perhaps some of the proceeds can go to the Bonnie Franklin Classic Contemporary American Plays organization. I would love to read more about her life. She died too soon. She didn’t get a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Television or inducted into the Television Hall of Fame for her portrayal of Ann Romano.

  6. Ellen Rothman Says:

    Feb. 16, 2018…Mr. Paolino, It would be nice if you could write
    a book about Bonnie….especially her humanitarian side. It’s
    been almost five years since she passed away. You were
    very fortunate to have been a close friend of Bonnie.

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