Teri Ann Garr (born December 11, 1944) is a retired American actress, singer, comedian, voice artist and dancer. She frequently appeared in comedic roles throughout her career, which spans four decades and includes over 140 credits in film and television. Her accolades include one Academy Award nomination, a BAFTA Award nomination, and one National Board of Review Award.
Garr c. 1978
Teri Ann Garr
December 11, 1944
Lakewood, Ohio, U.S.
|Alma mater||California State University, Northridge|
(m. 1993; div. 1996)
|Partner(s)||Roger Birnbaum (1979–1983)|
David Kipper (1983–1990)
Born in Lakewood, Ohio, Garr was raised in North Hollywood, California, the third child of a vaudevillian father and costume designer mother. In her youth, Garr trained extensively in ballet. She began her career as a teenager with small roles in television and film in the early 1960s, including appearances as a dancer in nine Elvis Presley musicals. After spending two years attending college, Garr left Los Angeles and studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York City.
Garr had a supporting role in Francis Ford Coppola's thriller The Conversation (1974) before having her film breakthrough as Inga in Young Frankenstein (1974). In 1977, she was cast in a high-profile role in Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Garr continued to appear in various high-profile roles throughout the 1980s, including supporting parts in the comedies Tootsie (1982), for which she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Sandra Lester, and then appearing opposite Michael Keaton the next year in Mr. Mom (1983). She reunited with Coppola the same year, appearing in his musical One from the Heart (1982), followed by a supporting part in Martin Scorsese's black comedy After Hours (1985).
Her quick banter led to Garr being a regular guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman. In the 1990s, she appeared in two films by Robert Altman: The Player (1992) and Prêt-à-Porter (1994), followed by supporting roles in Michael (1996) and Ghost World (2001). She also appeared on television as Phoebe Abbott in three episodes of the sitcom Friends (1997–98). In 2002, Garr announced that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the symptoms of which had negatively affected her ability to perform beginning in the 1990s.
Teri Ann Garr was born December 11, 1944 in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. Her father, Eddie Garr (born Edward Leo Gonnoud, 1900–1956), was a vaudeville performer, comedian, and actor whose career peaked when he briefly took over the lead role in the Broadway drama Tobacco Road. He changed his surname before Teri's birth. Her mother, Phyllis Lind Garr (1909–1999) (born Emma Schmotzer), was a dancer, a Rockette, wardrobe mistress, and model. Her father was of Irish descent and her maternal grandparents were Austrian immigrants. Garr has two older brothers. She spent her early life in Cleveland, and the family briefly relocated to New Jersey before settling in Los Angeles, California.
When Garr was 11 years old, her father died in Los Angeles of a heart attack. She recalled that his death "left us bereft, without any kind of income. And I saw my mother be this incredibly strong, creative woman who put three kids through college—one of my brothers is a surgeon. Any kind of lessons we wanted, we had to have scholarships or sweep the floors. It had to be free. And so we always had to try harder. That was instilled in me very early." During her youth, Garr expressed interest in dancing, and trained extensively in ballet. "I'd go for three, four hours a day; my feet would be bleeding," she recalled. "I'd take buses all over the city just to go to the best dancing schools. You could just stand there and be quiet and beat yourself up, push the body." Garr graduated from North Hollywood High School, and attended California State University, Northridge for two years before dropping out and relocating to New York City to further pursue acting. In New York, she studied at the Actors Studio and the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.
1963–1967: Early films and stage
Early in her career she was credited as Terri Garr, Terry Garr, Teri Hope, or Terry Carr. Her movie debut was as an extra in A Swingin' Affair (1963). During her senior year she auditioned for the cast of the Los Angeles road company production of West Side Story, where she met one of the most important people in her early career, David Winters, who became her friend, dance teacher, and mentor. Winters cast her in many of his early movies and projects.
Garr began as a background go-go dancer in uncredited roles in youth-oriented films and TV shows choreographed by Winters, including Pajama Party (a beach party film), the T.A.M.I. Show, Shindig!, Shivaree, Hullabaloo, Movin' with Nancy, and six Elvis Presley features (many of which were also choreographed by Winters, including Presley's most profitable film, Viva Las Vegas. When asked in a magazine interview about how she landed jobs in so many Presley films, Garr answered, "One of the dancers in the road show of West Side Story (David Winters) started to choreograph movies, and whatever job he got, I was one of the girls he'd hire. So he was chosen to do Viva Las Vegas. That was my first movie."
She often appeared on television during this time, performing as a go-go dancer on several musical variety shows, along with friend Toni Basil, such as Shindig! and Hullabaloo. In 1966 Garr made one appearance on Batman (episode 7, uncredited). In 1968, she appeared in both The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D. and was in two episodes of It Takes a Thief.
1968–1983: Film and television; critical acclaim
Her first speaking role in a motion picture was a brief appearance as a damsel in distress in the Monkees film Head (1968), written by Jack Nicholson; Garr obtained the role after meeting Nicholson in an acting class. "He wrote the script for Head, so all of us in the class got little tiny parts in the movie," she recalled. "I was… Who was I? Oh yes, I was the girl dying of a snakebite, who falls off the conestoga wagon and says, "Quick, suck it before the venom reaches my heart!"" The same year she landed her first significant TV role, featured as secretary Roberta Lincoln in the Star Trek episode "Assignment: Earth", designed as a backdoor pilot episode for a new series which was not commissioned. "Star Trek was the first job where I had a fairly big (for me) speaking part," Garr related in her memoir, "I played Roberta Lincoln, a dippy secretary in a pink and orange costume with a very short skirt. Had the spin-off succeeded, I would have continued on as an earthling agent, working to preserve humanity. In a very short skirt." This led to her being, in her words, "cast as birdbrained lasses," in episodes of other TV shows.
In 1972 she landed a regular role in The Ken Berry "WOW" Show, a summer replacement series. Afterwards, she was a regular cast member on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, dancing and acting in comedy sketches.
Garr appeared in a string of highly successful films in the mid-to-late 1970s, including a supporting role in Francis Ford Coppola's thriller The Conversation (1974). This was followed with her role as Inga, an assistant to Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, in the Mel Brooks horror comedy Young Frankenstein (1974), which marked a career breakthrough. She then appeared in Steven Spielberg's science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) as the wife of Richard Dreyfuss's character; in Oh, God! (1977) as the wife of John Denver's character; and the drama The Black Stallion (1979) as the mother of the boy protagonist.
In 1978, Garr appeared Off-Broadway in a production of One Crack Out by Canadian playwright David French, playing the wife of Charlie, a pool hustler in Toronto. Richard Eder of The New York Times noted that Garr "manages an attractive uncertainty and devotion as Charlie's wife."
In 1982, she starred opposite Dustin Hoffman in the comedy Tootsie (1982), playing an actress whose actor friend (Hoffman) disguises himself as a woman to further his career. For her role, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She then appeared in the comedy Mr. Mom (1983) as the wife of Michael Keaton's character, followed by a supporting role in Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985). In 1992, Teri played Marge Nelson in Mom and Dad Save the World, a sci-fi adventure family romantic comedy film.
1984–2007: Later work and television
Garr had a recurring role on McCloud, and appeared on M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show, The Odd Couple, Maude, Barnaby Jones, and Paul Sand in Friends and Lovers. She hosted Saturday Night Live three times (in 1980, 1983, and 1985), and was a frequent visitor on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
As a recurring guest on Late Night with David Letterman, Garr was renowned for her unscripted banter with David Letterman, who once goaded her into showering in his office while the camera rolled. In 1989, she appeared in Let It Ride, also opposite Dreyfuss. In the late 1990s, Garr landed a role as recurring character Phoebe Abbott in Friends, the estranged birth mother of Phoebe Buffay.
Garr's career began to slow in the late-1990s after she was informed by a neurologist that symptoms she had been experiencing for many years were those of multiple sclerosis. In film, she appeared in minor supporting roles, including portraying a witch in the children's film Casper Meets Wendy (1998), and as the mother of Michelle Williams in the political comedy Dick (1999). This was followed by an uncredited role in Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World (2001). She also provided the voice of Mary McGinnis in two Batman animated films: Batman Beyond: The Movie (1999), and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000).
Garr returned to the stage in 2000, appearing in numerous Off-Broadway performances of The Vagina Monologues throughout the fall of that year opposite Sanaa Lathan and Julianna Margulies. She subsequently had minor supporting roles in the Christmas comedy film Unaccompanied Minors (2006), and the independent comedies Expired and Kabluey (both 2007).
In 2006, Garr published an autobiography detailing her career and health struggles following her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, titled Speedbumps: Flooring It Through Hollywood. Garr appeared on The Moth Radio Hour broadcast of December 9, 2009 to tell a humorous reminiscence entitled "Wake Up Call".
Garr last acted on television in 2011. In addition, she appeared at the 19th Annual Race to Erase MS (multiple sclerosis) event in 2012.
In the early 1980s, Garr was in a four-year relationship with film executive Roger Birnbaum. After separating from Birnbaum, Garr was in a seven-year relationship with David Kipper, a physician, to whom she was introduced by Carrie Fisher.
Garr has one daughter, Molly O'Neil, born in November 1993, whom she adopted with her husband, contractor John O'Neil; the two were present on the day their adopted daughter was born. Garr and O'Neil divorced in 1996.
In July 1990, a Los Angeles County judge ordered a female stalker of Garr's to cease contacting her, as well as to remain 100 yards away from Garr, her home, and her work locations for three years.
In October 2002, Garr publicly confirmed that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. After years of uncertainty and secrecy surrounding her diagnosis, Garr explained her reasons for deciding to go public: "I'm telling my story for the first time so I can help people. I can help people know they aren't alone and tell them there are reasons to be optimistic because, today, treatment options are available."
In interviews, she has commented that she first started noticing symptoms while in New York filming Tootsie around 1982. After disclosing her condition, she became a National Ambassador for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and National Chair for the Society's Women Against MS program (WAMS). In November 2005, Garr was honored as the society's Ambassador of the Year. The same year, she revealed her treatment regimen for the disease, which included regular steroid injections to help manage symptoms. Closer reported in 2015 that she credited her positive attitude and support of her family as helping her fight the disease.
In December 2006, Garr suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. The aneurysm left Garr in a coma for weeks, but after therapy, she regained speech and motor skills, and, in 2008 appeared on Late Show with David Letterman to promote Expired, a 2007 film in which she played a set of twins.
Garr has been described as a "comedic legend." In 1982, film critic Pauline Kael described her as "the funniest neurotic dizzy dame on the screen." She has been named as an influence by numerous performers, including Jenna Fischer and Tina Fey.
|1978||Saturn Awards||Best Supporting Actress||Close Encounters of the Third Kind||Nominated|
|1983||Academy Awards||Best Supporting Actress||Tootsie||Nominated|
|1983||National Society of Film Critics||Best Supporting Actress||Tootsie|
|1983||CableACE Awards||Best Dramatic Actress||Faerie Tale Theatre |
(Episode: "The Tale of the Frog Prince")
|1984||BAFTA Awards||Best Supporting Actress||Tootsie||Nominated|
|1994||National Board of Review||Best Acting Ensemble||Prêt-à-Porter||Won|
- Various sources have cited numerous years for Garr's date of birth, though the date is always given as December 11. At the start of chapter 2 of her memoir Speedbumps, Garr declines to give her age. A few pages later, she indicates that she was 11 when her father died in September 1956. This fact places her birth year as 1944.
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