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Teri Garr Biography


Home > Actresses > G > Garr, Teri > Biography


Birth Name: Teri Garr
Born: 12/11/1947
Birth Place: Lakewood, Ohio, USA


Terry Ann "Teri" Garr was born on Dec. 11, 1944 in Lakewood, OH. Acting was definitely in this future movie star's blood. Her father, Eddie Garr, was an actor, comedian and vaudeville performer. Her mother, Phyllis Lind, was a Radio City Rockette, model and wardrobe stylist. When she was 11, Garr's father died, leaving Phyllis to support three kids. To make money, she mended and sewed costumes at NBC. In interviews, Garr often spoke of her mother's resourcefulness during those tough times, such as splitting their house in half and renting out the front. The actress recalled that when she could not afford a dress for the prom, Phyllis borrowed a Dior dress from the studio stockroom. The hardworking mother of three put Garr and her brothers through college and wore a pin on her blouse that said, "EGBOK," which stood for "Everything's Going To Be OK." In later interviews, Garr said that it was her mother's optimism that helped her survive her battle with MS that began in the early 1980s. "That was my role model," Garr said. "Someone who takes care of things copes. So I was conditioned to do that."

Garr's bubbly, wholesome looks landed her film roles where she was asked to play the bumbling but adorable blonde love interest. Of her earlier roles, she said, "I've always had this American pie face that would get work in commercials. I'd say things like, 'Hi Marge, how's your laundry?' Sometimes this work is one step above being a cocktail waitress." The Ohio native's movie debut was in "A Swingin' Affair" (1963), where she played an extra. She then appeared in several Elvis Presley movies, usually as a dancer, and had a cameo appearance in the Monkees film, "Head" (1968).

Director Mel Brooks helped Garr's acting career reach new peaks when he cast her in his 1974 comedy classic, "Young Frankenstein." Garr was picked out of 500 girls to play Inga, the Bavarian-accented and buxom lab assistant to Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein. "I realized Inga's part was really all about the boobs, so the next day I went into the audition wearing a bra stuffed with socks. People pay over $5,000 dollars for a boob job today. Mine cost under $5 at Woolworth's, and got me the part; my biggest to date," Garr said in her 2005 memoir Speedbumps: Flooring It through Hollywood.

By the late 1970s, Garr became one of Hollywood's most sought-after actresses. She played opposite Richard Dreyfuss in the Steven Spielberg-directed sci-fi classic "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," - in a rather unsympathetic role of harpy wife to a man changed forever by an alien encounter - and co-starred with George Burns and John Denver in the hilarious comedy, "Oh God!" Comedic acting came naturally for the Ohio native, whose talent and hard work paid off with an Oscar nomination for her tour de force performance as the neurotic actress Sandy Lester in the Sydney Pollack-directed "Tootsie." Even though her co-star Jessica Lange went home with the golden statue for Best Supporting Actress, Garr became even more in-demand for several comical and witty roles. She starred in the conman flick "The Sting II" (1983) with Jackie Gleason, and played a stay-at-home mom who trades places with Michael Keaton in the 1983 comedy hit, "Mr. Mom."

Garr also had a very successful career on the small screen. She appeared in numerous hit shows, from an early cameo in "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68) to playing Roberta Lincoln on a 1968 episode of the original "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-69) titled "Assignment: Earth." She had recurring roles in "It Takes a Thief" (ABC, 1968-1970) as Maggie Philbin, and as Sgt. Phyllis Norton in the police drama "McCloud" (NBC, 1970-77). The actress' kooky and free-spirited personality helped her shine on "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1971-74), where she played various characters, including Countess Legustav. Garr later said that Cher's German wig stylist on the show inspired the accent that made her a household name in "Young Frankenstein." Garr later reunited with the singer on her show "Cher" (CBS, 1975-76), as her friend, Olivia.

While Garr's appearances on film and scripted TV shows were memorable, it was simply being herself that made audiences love her even more. The actress was a frequent guest on personal friend David Letterman's talk show "Late Night with David Letterman" (NBC, 1982-1993). Garr sat in on the host's couch multiple times in the late 1980s and into the early '90s, not only to promote her acting work, but also to trade hilarious banter and flirtation with the smitten host. Letterman even persuaded Garr to do something your average talk-show guest would not even consider - let alone do - during an unforgettable episode that aired in November 1985. After repeatedly asking her to take a shower on-air in his office, Garr responded, "I've gone past taking showers on television. My final answer is no." By the time the closing credits aired, however, Garr had changed her mind and gave in to Letterman's begging. In her memoir, the actress said, "Dave had won. He'd beaten me down, and across America every guy who'd ever tried to talk a girl into doing something she didn't want to do must have felt a small sense of victory. "

So good of an actress was Garr that she was able to keep a secret that she feared would ruin her career. In 1983, the then 33-year-old actress felt the first symptoms of multiple sclerosis, although she would not get a definitive diagnosis till a few years later. The tingling, she recalled, began in her right foot as she jogged in New York's Central Park. She stumbled, and then she felt a stabbing pain in her arm. Her symptoms came and went over the years. Finally, in 1999, she was diagnosed with MS. Fearful that it would end her career, Garr kept her diagnosis a secret and tried to hide her pain and clumsiness, while at the same time, continuing acting in movies such as "Dumb & Dumber" (1994), the Robert Altman-ensemble film "PrĂȘt-a-Porter" (1994), and the drama "A Simple Wish" (1997). In a perfect casting move, Garr had a recurring role in the primetime hit "Friends" (NBC, 1994-2004), playing Ph be Buffay's (Lisa Kudrow) estranged and equally quirky mother, Ph be Sr.

On Nov. 18, 2005, Garr appeared on "Larry King Live" (CNN, 1985 - ) and finally went public with her illness, saying she wanted to uplift those who have MS, as well as educate them about the symptoms and new treatment options. She became a National Ambassador for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and National Chair for the Society's Women Against MS program. In November 2005, she was awarded as the society's Ambassador of the Year, an honor given only four times since the society was founded.

As if having the degenerative disorder was not bad enough, on Dec. 21, 2006, Garr suffered a brain aneurysm in her Los Angeles home and was saved by the resourcefulness of her daughter, Molly, who found her. She recovered, attributing her good health to exercise and a positive attitude. She was honored during the first annual United Cerebral Palsy Research & Educational Foundation gala in 2007. To much fanfare, Garr and Letterman reunited on "The Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS, 1993- ) in June 2008, where the host, in a very moving moment, guided Garr to her chair, and then proceeded to show everyone that the magic between the two had not been lost over the years - including laying the flirtation on thick as always. In fact, Garr was there to promote a role in the drama, "Expired" (2008) in which she played twins. Her strength and positive attitude - as well as refusal to stop working - inspired many, whether they suffered from the disease or not. She was simply, a survivor in every sense of the word, and a lovable one at that.