From Jenny Craig to Hot in Cleveland: The Second Coming of Valerie Bertinelli
One Day at a Time
It all started on December 16th, 1975. On that date, a new television series aired for the first time on the CBS Television Network named ‘One Day at a Time.’ In this comedy/drama Bonnie Franklin played Ann Romano, a divorced woman raising her two teenage daughters. One of those daughters was Barbara Cooper, portrayed by fifteen year-old Valerie Bertinelli. Barbara Cooper was originally written as a tomboy; the first images of Bertilleni in the opening credits showed her awkwardly dribbling a basketball as the family moved into their new apartment. The tomboy aspect of Barbara’s nature was soon ignored, in keeping with Bertinelli’s demure nature. The show was a hit and ran for nine years.
Flash forward to August 18th, 2010. A fifty year-old Valerie appeared in the season finale of her new TV Land television series, ‘Hot in Cleveland.’ The show teamed Bertinelli with television legend Betty White and was successful enough to be picked up for a second season. Bertinelli worked steadily after One Day at a Time ended its run, but her career never retained its early momentum. It wasn’t until she appeared in a television commercial with Kirstie Alley in 2007 as a spokesperson for the Jenny Craig weight loss program that America truly rediscovered Ms. Bertinelli.
How did Valerie Bertinelli reinvent herself?
One Day at a Time
Valerie Bertinelli and changes
The dark years
Despite instant celebrity as a teen star on ‘One Day at a Time,’ things weren’t easy for Ms. Bertinelli. A co-star on their show was Mackenzie Phillips, who proved an able and willing guide for Bertinelli’s education about the drug culture. Bertinelli had already smoked marijuana and taken diet pills to control her weight; fortunately, a front row view of Phillips’ substance abuse problems frightened Valerie. Her drug use was casual and never an issue. Valerie and Mackenzie had other things in common as they vied for the attention of male guest stars on the show, including ‘Star Wars’ star Mark Hamill and Robby Benson. Valerie also briefly dated Paul Shaffer, who made his mark on ‘Saturday Night Live’ before finding a home as bandleader for David Letterman’s show. Eventually she met Van Halen’s lead guitarist, Eddie Van Halen and became the bride of a rock star at the tender age of twenty.
‘One Day at a Time’ ended in 1984, and Valerie Bertinelli seemed slightly lost. She followed Van Halen on tour and auditioned for roles in movies like ‘The Big Chill,’ ‘Footloose’ and ‘Adventures in Babysitting.’ Valerie became pregnant and seemed happy with a life as a wife and mother, but the desire to work in films remained strong. Unable to land a role in a major Hollywood film, she found a niche in made-for-television movies that did little to stretch her as an actress. Every year saw Valerie Bertinelli in another TV movie, each one more forgettable than the last. Even a role on the hit series ‘Touched by an Angel’ did not revitalize her Hollywood career. The combination of her work as an actress and rock star lifestyle seemed to take its toll. The cute, charming girl who played Barbara Cooper seemed troubled and sad as an adult. There were extra-marital affairs, rumors of drug use and most noticeably—Valerie gained weight. The extra pounds chipped away at her self-esteem, and despite Valerie’s public persona she seemed to retreat into a life of anonymity. She filed for divorce from Eddie Van Halen in 2005.
From People Magazine to Hot in Cleveland
The beginnings of her reemergence were gradual; it would have been easy to miss the signs. She made frequent appearances on the ‘Rachael Ray Show’ in 2006, usually wearing bulky and unflattering outfits. Her friendship with Ray seemed sincere and their relaxed onscreen banter reminded everyone of the Valerie Bertinelli from ‘One Day at a Time’ that captivated America with her shy, girl-next-door appeal. It was as if stripping away the rocker wife persona allowed the real Valerie to assert herself. She compared recipes and joked on-air with Rachael Ray while preparing herself mentally for what was to come next.
Meanwhile, Valerie was making a decision. She had battled with gaining weight for years, and finally decided she needed to make her struggles public. She reasoned that losing weight in the public eye would serve to hold her accountable. It was a calculated risk—failing to lose weight or keep it off would severely diminish her career.
On April 4th, 2007 People Magazine appeared on the racks with a smiling Bertinelli on its cover, vowing she was reading to get slim. She signed on as a Jenny Craig spokesperson and agreed to film a new commercial each month, many of them with actress Kirstie Alley. With each new ad, a thinner Valerie extolled the virtues of her weight loss program and asked, “Have you called Jenny yet?” It was classic Valerie.
As the pounds melted away her confidence grew. In 2008 Bertinelli authored a book entitled ‘Losing It (and Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time).’ The book at first glance seemed to be a chronicle of her struggles with weight loss, but it was more about Eddie Van Halen than Jenny Craig. Perhaps she needed to find closure with that aspect of her life before moving on once and for all.
Less than two years after appearing on the cover of People Magazine, she was back—this time 50 pounds lighter. On March 25, 2009 Valerie Bertinelli once again appeared on the cover of People Magazine in a green bikini. A commercial with Valerie again in a bikini followed days later. Slim and confident, her transformation was complete.
Hot in Cleveland
Valerie Bertinelli didn’t rest on her laurels after her amazing weight loss. A second book followed, this time talking at length about the challenge of losing more than 50 pounds using the Jenny Craig program. It was titled ‘Finding It (And Satisfying My Hunger for Life Without Opening the Fridge).’ Her change was so dramatic she didn’t see the need to document it with photographs in her new book. She had nothing left to prove to anyone. A workout DVD soon followed titled ‘Valerie Bertinelli: Losing It and Keeping Fit!’ She exercised on the talk show circuit to promote her DVD, demonstrating the cheerful demeanor that had been absent since her days as Barbara Cooper.
She still wasn’t finished. In 2010 she teamed with Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and the incomparable Betty White in the TV Land sitcom, ‘Hot in Cleveland.’ This 21st century ‘Golden Girls’ follows three women in the midst of rebuilding their lives who meet on an airplane bound for Paris. A forced plane landing places them in Cleveland where they rent a house cared for by Elke (White). On August 18th, the final episode of the season concluded with a cliffhanger ending, promising at least one more season of ‘Hot in Cleveland.’ The show is captivating and each episode has some genuinely amusing moments. It might not rank with classic sitcoms of the past, but it is as good as many shows currently on television and has nothing to be ashamed of.
She continued to encourage us to lose weight, appearing in a series of delightful commercials with Jason Alexander. She remains connected with her son Wolfgang, who joined Van Halen and plays guitar on tour with the band. She publicly supported Mackenzie Phillips when her own book came out with details of a difficult and traumatic childhood.
Valerie Bertinelli at 50 years old is everything we hoped she would be when she dribbled a basketball into our lives 35 years ago. She is beautiful, confident and successful. She seems grateful for her successes, far different from her peers in Hollywood who act as if fame and fortune are due them. She seems real. She is definitely hot—
--in Cleveland, and everywhere else.
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