10 Surprising Facts About One Day at a Time

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Netflix is now producing its own version of the 1970s sitcom One Day a Time, featuring three generations of a Cuban-American family living together. While this updated go-round tackles some current issues facing such families, such as diversity and equity, it seems like the perfect time to take a look back at the original series, which was groundbreaking for featuring such then-controversial topics as suicide, premarital sex, and teen pregnancy. Here are 10 surprising facts about the show that started it all.

1. IT WAS PARTLY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

Whitney Blake was an actress probably best known for her role as Dorothy Baxter on the 1960s sitcom Hazel. Blake was also the mother of three children—one of whom is actress Meredith Baxter—who left her husband after 10 years of marriage and worked several day jobs at age 26 while taking drama classes at night in an effort to achieve her long-time dream of becoming a professional actress. In her 2011 memoir, Meredith Baxter described her upbringing as unconventional—she and her siblings, for example, were forbidden to refer to their mother as “Mom” and were instructed to always address her as “Whitney”— but Blake decided that her devotion to her career while being a single mom was the perfect premise for a TV series.

2. IT WAS ONLY THE SECOND SITCOM TO FEATURE A DIVORCED MOM.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Whitney Blake married TV producer Allan Manings in 1968. Manings worked on the TV sitcom Good Times, so he had a direct pipeline to Norman Lear when he pitched Blake’s divorced single mom idea. Lear, who was known for pushing the TV envelope on such series as All in the Family and Maude, agreed that a divorcée with children might attract viewers who were in a similar situation but also press enough controversy buttons in Middle America to make another hit. Yes, it sounds ever-so-benign today, but in 1975 (when the series debuted), Bonnie Franklin’s Ann Romano was only the second-ever divorced mother to feature on a TV sitcom. Though Vivian Vance’s character on The Lucy Show was the first divorced mom character, many considered Romano to be the “first realistic portrayal of a divorced mother struggling to raise her teenage daughters.”

3. THERE WAS ONLY ONE DAUGHTER IN THE ORIGINAL PILOT.

The original pilot Lear filmed starred Franklin as a divorced nurse raising a teenaged daughter (played by Mackenzie Phillips). The proposed series was called Three to Get Ready and also featured Pat Harrington Jr. as Schneider, the apartment building superintendent, and Marcia Rodd as Romano’s neighbor and friend. That particular pilot didn’t sell, but Lear retooled it to ditch the hospital setting and added a second daughter. He also decided that Marcia Rodd wasn’t the right fit for the neighbor and hired Mary Louise Wilson instead. Now called One Day at a Time, the series got a green light from CBS and debuted in December 1975.

4. A COUPLE OF KEY CHARACTERS WENT MISSING.

Richard Masur played attorney David Kane, a love interest for the newly-divorced Ann Romano in the first season. However, the actor realized after half a dozen episodes that his character was being “painted into a corner.” In a 2016 interview with The A.V. Club, the noted character actor explained that David seemed to be constantly proposing marriage to Ann and she refused him every time. He was becoming a one-note character, and the actor became even further frustrated when Lear insisted that David and Ann’s romance be chaste; it was made very clear via the scripts that they had done nothing more than hold hands and occasionally kiss. “I said, ‘Write me off the show,’” Masur recalled of his conversation with Lear. “He said, ‘Well, I don’t really want …’ I said, ‘Yes, you do, Norman. That’s why you’re here. Write me off the show.’ He says, ‘Okay.’”

Another character who seemingly disappeared without explanation was neighbor Ginny Wroblicki, a brassy cocktail waitress played by Mary Louise Wilson. Wilson had been appearing on and off Broadway since 1962, and it was while she was appearing in a revival of Gypsy that Lear offered her the role of Ginny. Wilson accepted the job based on Lear’s track record, but she quickly decided that One Day at a Time was no All in the Family. She and Bonnie Franklin never saw eye-to-eye (pun intended: in her 2015 autobiography, Wilson described Franklin as constantly giving her a glassy, semi-cross-eyed gaze as she critiqued Wilson’s performance), and she never got comfortable with the four-camera filming process. Like Masur, she pleaded her case to Lear and was released from her contract at the end of season two.

5. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED SCHNEIDER ADDED HIS EVER-PRESENT TOOL BELT.

Pat Harrington Jr. had an impressive television pedigree (including a stint working with Steve Allen’s comedy troupe) when he was hired to play the role of apartment building superintendent Dwayne Schneider. Harrington took his new gig very seriously and grew a Clark Gable-style mustache, since Schneider was supposed to be a notorious Lothario. He also decided—just half an hour before taping the first episode—that something was missing from his character’s wardrobe. He paid a studio electrician for his well-worn tool belt, complete with hammer, which he then slung around his hips, John Wayne-style.

6. THE STUDIO HAD TROUBLE KEEPING UP WITH VALERIE BERTINELLI’S FAN MAIL.

Valerie Bertinelli, who was cast as Ann Romano’s youngest daughter Barbara, became the breakout star of the series after just one season. With her girl-next-door face, button nose, and lush mane of hair, she was suddenly America’s Sweetheart, and—as Harrington mentioned in TV Guide’s Behind the Sitcom—the studio could barely cope with the sacks of fan mail addressed to Bertinelli. Interestingly enough, even though she was featured in almost every teen fan magazine of the era—not to mention some People magazine covers—Valerie confessed in her autobiography that for many years she felt unattractive when compared to co-star Mackenzie Phillips. Meanwhile, Phillips was secretly envious of not only Bertinelli’s media popularity, but also her wholesome upbringing and family life. Bertinelli was brought up in a closely-knit Italian Catholic family, while Phillips’s childhood (as detailed in her own book) was unconventional, to say the least. Ultimately, it was announced that her departure from the show was by “mutual decision” (though she did pop up in a few more episodes over the next few years).

7. MACKENZIE PHILLIPS LEFT AT THE HEIGHT OF THE SHOW’S POPULARITY.

Throughout the first five seasons of One Day at a Time, Phillips’s struggles with addiction were hardly an on-set secret. Though the show was a ratings juggernaut, and viewers loved her Julie Cooper character, the young actress’s erratic behavior eventually became cause for concern. In late 1979, People magazine reported that “the show’s producers, agreeing that Mackenzie was suffering from fatigue, ordered her to take six weeks off to ‘rest and put on some weight’—in brief, shape up or else.” Just a few weeks after returning to the set in early 1980, she was reportedly given the choice to either say she was leaving the show “for personal reasons” or be fired.

8. BERTINELLI AND ELTON JOHN WERE MUTUAL ADMIRERS.

Barbara Cooper was an Elton John fan on the show, just as Bertinelli was in real life. In fact, after she and Phillips sang “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” in costume as John and Kiki Dee on an episode, someone sent a tape of their performance to the rock star. He mailed Bertinelli an autographed photo that read, “You look more like me than I do!”

9. BONNIE FRANKLIN GOT DUMPED FOR ANN JILLIAN.

As happens on all TV shows that use teen actors, the kids grow up. As Bertinelli and Phillips got older and more independent, their characters did the same and eventually Ann Romano needed someone else to guide and nurture. Glenn Scarpelli joined the cast in season six as Alex, the son of Nick Handris, Ann’s new boyfriend. Nick was played by Ron Rifkin, who left after one season (once again, the producers decided it was better if Ann didn’t have a steady love interest). Nick was killed by a drunk driver and Alex came to live with Ann for three seasons. His was written out at the end of the eighth season because Scarpelli had accepted a role on the Ann Jillian sitcom Jennifer Slept Here, which ended up lasting just one season (as opposed to One Day at a Time’s nine). He also tried his hand at a singing career:

10. SCHNEIDER ALMOST GOT A SPINOFF.

After nine seasons, Franklin and Bertinelli decided not to renew their contracts. But the ratings for One Day at a Time were still strong enough that the network wanted to keep the show going somehow. Their solution was to spin off the Schneider character into his own show. The episode entitled “Another Man’s Shoes” was a backdoor pilot for a proposed series in which Schneider moves to Florida to care for his orphaned niece and nephew. That show was never picked up, leaving Harrington to hang up his tool belt for good.

Take Advantage of Amazon's Early Black Friday Deals on Tech, Kitchen Appliances, and More

Amazon
Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Even though Black Friday is still a few days away, Amazon is offering early deals on kitchen appliances, tech, video games, and plenty more. We will keep updating this page as sales come in, but for now, here are the best Amazon Black Friday sales to check out.

Kitchen

Instant Pot/Amazon

- Instant Pot Duo Plus 9-in-115 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker; $90 (save $40) 

- Le Creuset Enameled Cast Iron Signature Sauteuse 3.5 Quarts; $180 (save $120)

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- Keurig K-Mini Coffee Maker; $60 (save $20)

- Cuisinart Bread Maker; $88 (save $97)

- Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker; $139 (save $60)

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- Longzon Silicone Stretch Lids - Set of 14; $13 (save $14)

HadinEEon Milk Frother; $37 (save $33)

Home Appliances

Roomba/Amazon

- iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum with Wi-Fi Connectivity; $179 (save $101)

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Oscillating Quiet Cooling Fan Tower; $59 (save $31) 

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Vitamix 068051 FoodCycler 2 Liter Capacity; $300 (save $100)

AmazonBasics 8-Sheet Home Office Shredder; $33 (save $7)

Ring Video Doorbell; $70 (save $30) 

Video games

Nintendo

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- Ghost of Tsushima; $40 (save $20)

BioShock: The Collection; $20 (save $30)

The Sims 4; $20 (save $20)

God of War for PlayStation 4; $10 (save $10)

Days Gone for PlayStation 4; $20 (save $6)

Luigi's Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch; $40 (save $20)

Computers and tablets

Microsoft/Amazon

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Apple iPad Mini (64 GB); $379 (save $20)

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Tech, gadgets, and TVs

Apple/Amazon

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Canon EOS M50 Mirrorless Camera with EF-M 15-45mm Lens; $549 (save $100)

DR. J Professional HI-04 Mini Projector; $93 (save $37)

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15 Moving Facts About Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987).
Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987).
Paramount Pictures

Steve Martin and John Candy starred in the holiday movie classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles, writer/director John Hughes’s first big foray away from writing about teenage angst. Martin played Neal Page, a marketing executive who is desperate to get back home to Chicago to see his wife and kids for Thanksgiving, but along the way is thoroughly aggravated by shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith (Candy) and the many, many, many mishaps that befall the two throughout their travels. Here are some facts about the film that are not pillows.

1. Planes, Trains and Automobiles was inspired by John Hughes’s own hellish trip trying to get from New York City To Chicago.

Before he became a screenwriter, Hughes used to work as a copywriter for the Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago. One day he had an 11 a.m. presentation scheduled in New York City on a Wednesday, and planned to return home on a 5 p.m. flight. Winter winds forced all flights to Chicago to be canceled that night, so he stayed in a hotel. A snowstorm in Chicago the next day continued the delays. The plane he eventually got on ended up being diverted to Denver. Then Phoenix. Hughes didn’t make it back until Monday. Experiencing such a hellish trip might explain how Hughes managed to write the first 60 pages of Planes, Trains and Automobiles in just six hours.

2. Howard Deutch was originally supposed to direct Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Deutch directed Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful for Hughes. Hughes decided to direct himself after Steve Martin signed on. Deutch got to direct The Great Outdoors instead.

3. Steve Martin thought the script for Planes, Trains and Automobiles was too long.

The comedian, who had written his own screenplays, thought the 145-page length of the script was a lot for a comedy. When Martin asked Hughes where he thought they might cut scenes, Hughes was confused by the question. Martin later claimed that the first cut of Planes, Trains and Automobiles was four and a half hours long.

4. John Hughes acted out the entire movie to a publicist hoping to work on Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Reid Rosefelt went in to meet Hughes for the unit publicist position. Rosefelt recalled in his blog that he found it strange, but admirable, that Hughes did not allow Rosefelt to see the script to the movie he would potentially work on and promote beforehand. After the two grew more comfortable with one another at their meeting, Rosefelt asked what the movie was about—he only knew Steve Martin and John Candy were starring and it was called Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Hughes then performed the entire movie for him. Rosefelt didn’t get the job.

5. John Candy arrived to shoot Planes, Trains and Automobiles with exercise equipment in tow.

On the first day of shooting, the crew brought in treadmills, weights, and other exercise equipment for Candy to use in his hotel suite. Martin said Candy didn’t use any of it.

6. The entirety of Planes, Trains and Automobiles was meant to be shot in Chicago, but there wasn’t enough snow.

Some exterior scenes were filmed in Buffalo, New York. Martin said that the cast and crew pretty much lived the plot of the movie. “As we would shoot, we were hopping planes, trains, and automobiles, trying to find snow.”

7. The constant delays on production on Planes, Trains and Automobiles were very beneficial to one actor.

In John Hughes: A Life in Film, Kirk Honeycutt wrote that one actor, who played a truck driver, was only supposed to have one line and work for one day. Hughes chose to keep him on standby. The actor ended up working enough days while the crew waited for the snow to come that he was able to make a down payment on a house. It’s very possible this was Troy Evans, who was uncredited, as the shy truck driver in the movie. He went on to appear, credited, on ER for the show’s final five seasons as Frank Martin.

8. Edie Mcclurg’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles improvisations impressed John Hughes.

McClurg, probably best known as Grace, Principal Rooney’s secretary in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, played the St. Louis car rental employee upon whom Neal dropped 18 F-bombs. For the first few takes, McClurg simply raised her finger and had a standard phone conversation with a customer. Then Hughes told her to improvise talking on the phone about Thanksgiving. She then came up with the stuff about needing roasted marshmallows and taking care of the crescent rolls because she can’t cook based on her own life. When she finished, Hughes asked her how she came up with those details so quickly. When McClurg explained she just got it from her own life just like he does with his scripts, he said, “Oh yeah!” She claims people to this day ask her to tell them they’re f*cked.

9. Steve Martin and Edie McClurg's F-bomb-filled exchange earned Planes, Trains and Automobiles an R rating.

That sweary tirade between Martin and McClurg is reportedly one of the scenes that made Martin want to make the movie. Its overuse of the word f*ck is also apparently what pushed the movie's rating from PG-13 to R.

10. In one scene in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Susan Page is watching She’s Having A Baby—another John Hughes movie.

In the scene that goes back and forth between Neal trying to sleep next to Del clearing his sinuses and Neal’s wife (Laila Robins) watching TV alone in their bed, she is somehow watching She’s Having a Baby, which wouldn’t be released in theaters until February of the following year. Kevin Bacon stars in that movie, and made a cameo in Planes as the guy who out-hustles Neal in getting a cab. Some people believe Bacon—who was officially listed in the credits as “Taxi Racer”—was playing his She’s Having a Baby character, Jake, in that scene.

11. A scene in a strip club was cut from Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

After their car blew up, Neal and Del went inside a strip club to use a phone, where Del got distracted by the dancers. Actress Debra Lamb didn’t know that her scene was cut until she went to a screening.

12. Jeri Ryan was cut from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but her scene wasn’t.

It was the actress’s first role. She was one of the passengers on the bus ride and couldn’t help but laugh at Martin and Candy’s antics. They re-shot the scenes without her.

13. Elton John wrote a song for Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Carlo Allegri, Getty Images

Elton John and lyricist Gary Osborne were almost finished writing the theme song when Paramount insisted on ownership of the recording master, which John’s record company would not allow. The song has never been released.

14. In the original ending of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Del followed Neal all the way home.

Hughes decided during the editing process that instead, John Candy’s character would be “a noble person” and finally take the hint from Martin’s character, and let Neal return home alone, before Neal has a change of heart and finds Del again.

15. In the scene where Neal thinks about Del on the train in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Steve Martin didn’t know the camera was on.

In order to get the new ending he wanted, Hughes and editor Paul Hirsch went back to look for footage they previously didn’t think would be used. Hughes had kept the cameras rolling in between takes on the Chicago train, without his lead’s knowledge, while Martin was thinking about his next lines. Hughes thought Martin had a “beautiful expression” on his face in that unguarded moment.