Frances Bay, January 23, 1919 – September 15, 2011 was a U.S.-based Canadian character actress, best-known for playing quirky, elderly women on film and television. She began her acting career in her mid-50s.
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) is "just a sweet guy. He lost his own grandmother in the Holocaust, and he wrote me a letter saying I was his virtual grandmother". In 1983, she played the grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood in Faerie Tale Theatre for Showtime. In 1994, she played Mrs. Pickman in John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness.
Work with David Lynch
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.
Bay was born Frances Goffman in Mannville, Alberta to a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant father, Max Goffman, and his wife, Ann (née Averbach), and 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.
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. Charles and Frances Bay had one son, Josh, who died at the age of 23. Soon after the death of her husband in 2002, she was struck by a car in Glendale, California, and as a result she had to have part of her right leg amputated.
She was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame on September 6, 2008, 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.
Notable film roles
Bay may also be familiar from her performance in the music video for Jimmy Fallon's comedy song, Idiot Boyfriend. She made an appearance as Mrs. Pickman in John Carpenter's In the Mouth of Madness. She may be best-remembered for her performance as the hapless but loving grandmother of Adam Sandler's titular character in the 1996 film Happy Gilmore.
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
In an episode episode of The Dukes of Hazzard episode 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 an earlier episode of Seinfeld, she played Mabel Choate, a wealthy, irritable old woman from whom Jerry steals a loaf of marbled rye bread. In that episode, entitled "The Rye", Bay appeared with her former Twin Peaks co-stars Grace Zabriskie and Warren Frost, although she did not share scenes with them. In a future episode, the consequences of Jerry's act set in motion a string of events which cause Seinfeld's father, Morty, to be impeached as president of his retirement community in Florida. Her appearance in the final two episodes of Seinfeld also stem from this madcap scenario.
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 as an elderly patient who "just wouldn't die" in 2009.
Her last part was a recurring role as the silent "Aunt Ginny" on The Middle.