Frances Bay

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Frances Bay
Frances bay.jpg
Frances Bay in 1999
Born Frances 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 Company
Home town Dauphin, Manitoba, Canada
Spouse(s) Charles Bay
(m. 1946–2002; his death); 1 son
Children Josh Bay (deceased)

Frances Bay (née Goffman; January 23, 1919 – September 15, 2011)[2] was a Canadian American character actress, best known for playing quirky, eccentric, albeit usually sweet-natured elderly women on film and television. She did not enter the acting industry of television and film until her late 50s, in which she appeared in numerous prolific and memorable roles, although she had worked in radio and in theatre, in which she won a Drama-Logue Award, she was also a Gemini Award winner, an honour in her native Canada.

Personal life[edit]

Bay was born Frances 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.[3]

She married 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][8]

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.

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".[9] In 1983, she played the grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood in Faerie Tale Theatre for Showtime.

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.

Other roles[edit]

She appeared in two Stuart Gordon films: as a kindly witch in The Pit and the Pendulum and as the fortune teller in Edmond adapted from the play by David Mamet. But she may be best-remembered for her performance as the loving grandmother of Adam Sandler's titular character in the 1996 film Happy Gilmore. Bay is also familiar from her performance 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 Bradford Industries, in the film Inspector Gadget.


She has the distinction of appearing 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, for which she won a Gemini Award.

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 previously unmentioned sister of Lulu Coltrane Hogg and Rosco P. Coltrane.
  • In episode 19 ("The Gift") of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, Bay played a dying woman, Mildred Grayson, who has been abandoned by her daughters.
  • In the Matlock episode "The Defense" she played Rose Hayes, the mother and killer of abusive husband Frank Hayes.
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Rye", she played Mabel Choate, an irritable old woman from whom Jerry steals a loaf of marbled rye bread. She guest-starred with her former Twin Peaks co-stars Grace Zabriskie and Warren Frost, although she did not share scenes with them. 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.
  • 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.
  • She appeared in an episode of Grey's Anatomy in 2009 as an elderly patient who "just wouldn't die".
  • Her last part was a recurring role as the silent Aunt Ginny on The Middle. The episode "The Map" was dedicated to her, as it focused on the funeral for her Aunt Ginny character.
  • She guest starred as the elderly boarding home operator Viola McKnight in a 1999 episode of the Canadian television series Davinci's Inquest.


Bay died in Tarzana, California on September 15, 2011, of complications from pneumonia at the age of 92.[10]


  1. ^ Profile of Goffman family, pg. 4
  2. ^ Notice of the death of Frances Bay in the Los Angeles Times
  3. ^ Profile of Goffman family, ibid.
  4. ^ Michael Posner, "Seinfeld's marble rye lady honoured". Toronto Globe and Mail, September 6, 2008, pg. R4
  5. ^ "Frances Bay - Biography". IMDb. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  6. ^ "Canada's Walk of Fame Inducts Frances Bay". Canada's Walk of Fame. 
  7. ^ "Steve Nash, kd lang among new Walk of Fame inductees". CTV News. 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2008-06-03. 
  8. ^ Michael Posner, "Seinfeld's marble rye lady honoured". Toronto Globe and Mail, September 6, 2008, pg. R4
  9. ^ Bay quoted by Michael Posner, "Seinfeld's marble rye lady honoured". Toronto Globe and Mail, September 6, 2008, pg. R4
  10. ^ Zakarin, Jordan (September 18, 2011). "Frances Bay Dead: 'Happy Gilmore,' 'Seinfeld' Actress Passes Away At 92". Huffington Post. Retrieved September 19, 2011. 

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