‘Happy Days’: How Frances Bay, Who Played Fonzie’s Grandma, Kept Acting Even After Losing Leg

by John Jamison
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The show must go on. Few know this better than “Happy Days” actor Frances Bay. Some may recognize her from her three appearances on the iconic show as Fonzie’s Grandma Nussbaum. But chances are, you’ve seen her in several different TV shows and movies.

Even though she came to acting later in life, Bay had earned 175 acting credits when everything was said and done. She continued acting until 2011 when she died at the age of 92. If that wasn’t enough, the last decade of her career came after losing her leg in a car accident. That’s what we like to call passion.

If you’re still having trouble picturing the “Happy Days” guest star, she also played Adam Sandler’s grandma in “Happy Gilmore.” Those types of grandmotherly roles were Frances Bay’s bread and butter. She worked consistently from 1976 to 2011 and wasn’t picky about whether her roles came in TV shows or movies.

In the early 1980s, she had the opportunity to spend a few episodes playing grandma to one of the most iconic characters of all time. And she famously played Mabel Choate on “Seinfeld” in the 1990s. In 2002, however, everything changed.

According to the New York Post, the former “Happy Days” actor was hit by a car and had to have her right leg amputated. It seemed like her acting career would come to an abrupt end. She was 83 years old at the time, after all. But she wasn’t about to let a missing leg derail anything. Instead of cruising into retirement, she returned to work.

She played nearly 20 more roles before her passing in 2011—one of the bigger ones coming on the hit sitcom “The Middle” as Aunt Ginny.

The Former ‘Happy Days’ Grandma Chose Acting Because it Allowed Her to Escape Her Own Identity

Like many who go the acting route, Frances Bay didn’t have the highest opinion of herself. That’s not to say she didn’t believe in her talent. But she had an image in her mind of what she was and used acting to repaint the picture with each new character.

“I always wanted to be an actress. And it wasn’t ego. I felt so little about myself considered myself such a sparrow. Not just my size: I thought I was so plain … I did plays not to show off but because if I did that — I didn’t realize it at the time — I would be somebody other than this person I didn’t really approve of. I guess that’s true of a lot of actors,” the “Happy Days” star told the Los Angeles Times in 1986.

You know you’ve found your true passion when losing a leg at 83 can’t keep you away from it. Rest in peace, Frances. Your characters will continue to entertain for years to come.

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