Frances Bay

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Frances Bay
Frances bay.jpg
Frances Bay in 1999
Born Frances Evelyn Goffman
(1919-01-23)January 23, 1919
Mannville, Alberta, Canada[1]
Died September 15, 2011(2011-09-15) (aged 92)
Tarzana, California, U.S.
Cause of death Pneumonia
Resting place Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery
Residence Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Nationality Canadian
Occupation Actress
Years active 1978–2011
Employer Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Home town Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada
Spouse(s) Charles Bay (m. 1946; his death 2002)
Children Josh Bay (deceased)

Frances Evelyn Bay (née Goffman; January 23, 1919 – September 15, 2011)[2] was a Canadian-American character actress.

Career synopsis[edit]

She started her career as a professional performer in 1930s radio, did not enter the acting industry of television and film until 1976 while in her mid-50s, ultimately appearing in numerous roles, and best known for playing eccentric elderly women, particularly in Seinfeld and Happy Gilmore. She also worked in theatre, winning both the Drama-Logue and Gemini awards, respectively.[3][2]

Personal life[edit]

Bay was born Frances Evelyn Goffman in Mannville, Alberta, to Ukrainian Jewish immigrant parents, Ann (née Averbach) and Max Goffman, and was raised in Dauphin, Manitoba. Her younger brother was the noted sociologist Erving Goffman. Before World War II she acted professionally in Winnipeg and spent the war hosting the Canadian Broadcasting Company's radio show, Everybody's Program, aimed at service members overseas.[1]

She married Charles Irwin Bay (born December 15, 1918 – died June 18, 2002) in 1946, and moved to Cape Town, South Africa, living in the Constantia and Camps Bay areas. She studied with Uta Hagen at this time.[4] Charles and Frances Bay had one son, Josh (Eli Joshua; March 14, 1947 – June 6, 1970),[5] who died at the age of 23.

She was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame on September 6, 2008,[6] in large part thanks to a petition with 10,000 names which was submitted on her behalf. The selection committee also received personal letters from Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, David Lynch, Henry Winkler, Monty Hall and other celebrities.[7][4]

Early roles[edit]

Bay did not appear in films until she got a small part in Foul Play, a 1978 comedy starring Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase. A year earlier, she appeared as Mrs. Hamilton in the Christmas television special Christmastime with Mister Rogers. She went on to play small roles in films like The Karate Kid, Big Top Pee-wee and Twins.[5]

Her first major television appearance occurred playing the grandmother to the character of Arthur Fonzarelli (aka "The Fonz") on Happy Days. She described Henry Winkler (who played Fonzarelli) as "just a sweet guy. He lost his own grandmother in the Holocaust, and he wrote me a letter saying I was his virtual grandmother".[4] In 1983, she played the grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood in Faerie Tale Theatre for Showtime.[5]

Work with David Lynch[edit]

In 1986, Bay appeared as the doddery aunt of Kyle MacLachlan's character in David Lynch's Blue Velvet. This role seems to have endeared the actress to Lynch, who recast her in several subsequent works, including as a foul-mouthed madam in Wild at Heart, and as Mrs. Tremond on Twin Peaks and its movie spin-off, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.[5]

Other roles[edit]

In 1990, she had a small role in the Anjelica Huston-John Cusack vehicle, The Grifters. She appeared in two Stuart Gordon films: as a kindly witch in The Pit and the Pendulum, and as a fortune teller in Edmond, adapted from the David Mamet play.[5]

She portrayed the grandmother of Adam Sandler's titular character in Happy Gilmore (1996). She appeared in the music video for Jimmy Fallon's comedy song, "Idiot Boyfriend". In 1994, she played Mrs. Pickman in John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness. She also played Thelma, the head security guard at the Bradford robotics laboratory in the film Inspector Gadget.[5]


Bay appeared in the final episodes of three long-running sitcom series: Happy Days, Who's the Boss? and Seinfeld. Bay had the opportunity to play Cousin Winifred in the fourth to last episode of Road to Avonlea, a role for which she won a Gemini Award.[5]

Notable television appearances[edit]

  • In a The Dukes of Hazzard episode "The Return of Hughie Hogg", Bay played Hortense Coltrane, Boss Hogg's sister-in-law.
  • The episode "The Gift" of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, Bay played a dying woman, Mildred Grayson, who has been abandoned by her daughters.
  • The Matlock episode "The Defense" has Bay playing Rose Hayes, the mother and killer of her abusive husband.
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Rye", she played Mabel Choate, an irritable old woman from whom Jerry steals a loaf of marbled rye bread. Following a story arc, she then appeared in a later episode, "The Cadillac". She recognized Jerry as the thief, and cast the deciding vote to impeach Jerry's father as president of his condo community. She also appeared in the final episode to recount the incident.
  • She guest starred as the elderly boarding home operator Viola McKnight in a 1999 episode of the Canadian television series Davinci's Inquest.
  • In the episode "Excelsis Dei" of The X-Files, Bay played Dorothy, a resident of the nursing home who could see the spirits that had been awakened.
  • She appeared in an episode of Charmed as an older version of the character Phoebe Halliwell.
  • In 2009, Bay appeared in an episode of Grey's Anatomy as an elderly patient who "just wouldn't die."
  • Her final part was a recurring role as the silent Aunt Ginny on the sitcom The Middle. The episode "The Map" was dedicated to her and focuses on the funeral of her Aunt Ginny character.

Personal life and death[edit]

Bay was involved in an auto accident in 2002, and had to have her leg amputated; she was subsequently confined to a wheelchair. She died in Tarzana, California on September 15, 2011, of complications from pneumonia at the age of 92.[3]


  1. ^ a b Profile of Goffman family, pg. 4
  2. ^ a b "Character actress Frances Bay dies at 92". Los Angeles Times. September 16, 2011. Retrieved April 5, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Zakarin, Jordan (September 18, 2011). "Frances Bay Dead: 'Happy Gilmore', 'Seinfeld' Actress Passes Away At 92". Huffington Post. Retrieved April 5, 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c Michael Posner, "Seinfeld's marble rye lady honoured", Toronto Globe and Mail, September 6, 2008, pg. R4
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Frances Bay at the Internet Movie Database
  6. ^ "Canada's Walk of Fame Inducts Frances Bay". Canada's Walk of Fame. Retrieved April 5, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Steve Nash, kd lang among new Walk of Fame inductees". CTV News. June 3, 2008. Archived from the original on June 4, 2008. Retrieved April 5, 2016. 

External links[edit]