Teri Garr

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Teri Garr
Teri Garr in 1978.jpg
Garr, c. 1978
Teri Ann Garr

(1944-12-11) December 11, 1944 (age 77)
Alma materCalifornia State University, Northridge
  • Actress
  • comedian
  • dancer
  • singer
Years active1963–2011
John O'Neil
(m. 1993; div. 1996)
Partner(s)Roger Birnbaum (1979–1983)
David Kipper (1983–1990)

Teri Ann Garr (born December 11, 1944)[1][a] is an American actress, dancer, and comedian. She frequently appeared in comedic roles throughout her career,[3] which spans four decades and includes over 140 credits in film and television.[4] Her accolades include an Academy Award nomination, a BAFTA Award nomination, and a National Board of Review Award.

Born in Lakewood, Ohio, Garr was raised in North Hollywood, California. She is the third child of a comedic-actor father and a studio costumer mother. In her youth, Garr trained in ballet and other forms of dance. She began her career as a teenager with small roles in television and film in the early 1960s, including appearances as a dancer in six 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. Her self-described "big break" as an actress was landing a role in the 1968 Star Trek episode "Assignment: Earth", after which she said, "I finally started to get real acting work."[2]: 61–64 

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 Sandy 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).

Garr's quick wit and charming banter made her a sought after guest on late night shows like 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 affected her ability to perform beginning in the 1990s.[5] She retired from acting in 2011.[6][7]

Early life[edit]

Teri Ann Garr was born December 11, 1944, in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb west of Cleveland.[8] Her father, Eddie Garr (born Edward Leo Gonnoud),[2]: 68  was a vaudeville performer, comedian, and actor, whose career peaked when he briefly took over the lead role in the Broadway drama Tobacco Road.[9] Her mother, Phyllis Lind Garr (born Emma Schmotzer),[2]: 68  was a dancer, a Rockette, wardrobe mistress, and model.[10][11][12] Her father was of Irish descent and her maternal grandparents were Austrian immigrants.[2]: 68  Garr has two older brothers, Ed and Phil.[1][13] She spent her early life in Cleveland, and the family briefly relocated to New Jersey before settling in Los Angeles, California.[13]

When Garr was eleven, her father died in Los Angeles of a heart attack.[13] 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."[13] During her youth, Garr expressed interest in dancing, and trained extensively in ballet.[13] "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."[13] Garr graduated from North Hollywood High School, and attended San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University, Northridge) for two years before dropping out and relocating to New York City to further pursue acting.[13] In New York, she studied at the Actors Studio[13] and the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.[14]


Early films and stage[edit]

Early in her career, she was credited as Terri Garr, Terry Garr, Teri Hope, or Terry Carr.[citation needed] 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.[15] Winters cast her in many of his early movies and projects.[16][17]

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).[18] 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."[17]

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 seven, uncredited). In 1968, she appeared in both The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D.[19] and was in two episodes of It Takes a Thief.

Film and television; critical acclaim[edit]

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 got the role after meeting Nicholson in an acting class.[20] "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!' "[20] Earlier in that 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 that 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.[2]

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 & Cher Comedy Hour, dancing and acting in comedy sketches.[21]

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).[22] 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.[23] She then appeared in a dramatic role in Steven Spielberg's science-fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) as the wife of Richard Dreyfuss's character;[22] 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.[22]

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.[24] Richard Eder of The New York Times noted that Garr "manages an attractive uncertainty and devotion as Charlie's wife."[24]

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.[25] 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.

Later work and television[edit]

Garr and Hector Elizondo on the set of Perfect Alibi with director Kevin Meyer

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.[26]

As a recurring guest on Late Night with David Letterman, Garr was renowned for her unscripted banter with David Letterman,[27] who once goaded her into showering in his office while the camera rolled.[28][29] Letterman later apologized to Garr, stating that he came to realize the constant requests for her to shower were "maybe kind of a sexist thing to do."[30]

In 1989, she appeared in Let It Ride, also opposite Dreyfuss.[22] In the late 1990s, Garr landed a role as recurring character Phoebe Abbott in Friends, the estranged birth mother of Phoebe Buffay.[31]

Garr's career began to slow in the late 1990s after a neurologist informed her that symptoms she had been experiencing for many years were those of multiple sclerosis.[32] In film, she appeared in minor supporting roles, including a witch in the children's film Casper Meets Wendy (1998) and the mother of Michelle Williams in the political comedy Dick (1999).[33] This was followed by an uncredited role in Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World (2001).[34] 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).[26]

Garr returned to the stage in 2000, appearing in numerous off-Broadway performances of The Vagina Monologues that fall opposite Sanaa Lathan and Julianna Margulies.[35] She subsequently had minor supporting roles in the Christmas comedy film Unaccompanied Minors (2006),[36] and the independent comedies Expired and Kabluey (both 2007).[37]


In 2006, Garr published an autobiography, Speedbumps: Flooring It Through Hollywood, which details her career and health struggles after her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.[4] Garr appeared on The Moth Radio Hour broadcast of December 9, 2009, to tell a humorous reminiscence, "Wake Up Call".[38]

Garr last acted on television in 2011. She appeared at the 19th Annual Race to Erase MS event in 2012.[39]

Personal life[edit]

Garr at the AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) benefit, September 1990

In the early 1980s, Garr was in a seven-year relationship with film executive Roger Birnbaum.[40][41] After separating from Birnbaum, Garr was in a seven-year relationship with David Kipper, a physician, to whom she was introduced by Carrie Fisher.[2]: 141, 152–155  In 1993, Garr married building contractor John O'Neil, and that same year, in November, they were present when their adopted daughter Molly O'Neil was born. The couple divorced in 1996.[42]

In July 1990, a Los Angeles County judge ordered a woman charged with stalking Garr to cease contacting her and to remain 100 yards (91 m) away from Garr, her home, and her work locations for three years.[43]

Health issues[edit]

In October 2002, Garr confirmed that she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.[44] After years of uncertainty and secrecy about 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."[44]

In interviews, Garr has said that she first started noticing symptoms while she was 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).[45] 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.[32] Closer reported in 2015 that she credited her positive attitude and her family's support for helping her fight the disease.[46]

In December 2006, Garr had a ruptured brain aneurysm.[47] The aneurysm left her in a coma for a week,[37] but after therapy, she regained speech and motor skills, and in 2008 she appeared on Late Show with David Letterman to promote Expired, a 2007 film in which she played one of a set of twins.[48]

Political activism[edit]

In March 1988, Garr was arrested for trespassing in Mercury, Nevada, during a protest against nuclear weapons testing in the area.[49]

Garr has participated in events for The Trevor Project, a nonprofit gay youth suicide prevention organization.[50][51]


Garr has been called a "comedic legend."[3] In 1982, film critic Pauline Kael called her "the funniest neurotic dizzy dame on the screen."[40] She has been named as an influence by numerous performers including Jenna Fischer[52] and Tina Fey.[20]


Year Institution Category Nominated work Result Ref.
1978 Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actress Close Encounters of the Third Kind Nominated
1983 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actress Tootsie Nominated [10]
1983 National Society of Film Critics Best Supporting Actress Tootsie
Third place
1983 CableACE Awards Best Dramatic Actress Faerie Tale Theatre
(Episode: "The Tale of the Frog Prince")
1984 BAFTA Awards Best Supporting Actress Tootsie Nominated [53]
1994 National Board of Review Best Acting Ensemble Prêt-à-Porter Won [54]




  1. ^ 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.[2]: 9–10, 19 


  1. ^ a b "Teri Garr (1944–)". Biography.com. Archived from the original on July 7, 2019. Retrieved December 31, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Garr, Teri; Mantel, Henriette (2005). Speedbumps: flooring it through Hollywood. Waterville, Maine: Thorndike Press. ISBN 0786282010. OCLC 61499903 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b Hodgman, John (November 12, 2006). "How to Be Funny". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 22, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Humor keeps comedy actress Teri Garr afloat". Los Angeles Daily News. Houston, Texas. April 19, 2008. Archived from the original on April 9, 2019. Retrieved October 21, 2018 – via Houston Chronicle.
  5. ^ Grossberg, Josh (January 3, 2007). "Garr Better After Brain Aneurysm". E! Online. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  6. ^ "'Tootsie' Actress Teri Garr 'Fine' After Brief Hospitalization for Dehydration | Entertainment Tonight". www.etonline.com. Retrieved September 5, 2022.
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  8. ^ Welsh, James M.; Phillips, Gene D.; Hill, Rodney F. (2010). The Francis Ford Coppola Encyclopedia. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-8108-7650-7 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ "Eddie Garr Dead at 56". The New York Times. New York, NY. Associated Press. September 6, 1956. p. 25 – via TimesMachine.
  10. ^ a b King, Susan (June 30, 2008). "Garr back on her feet, back on the big screen". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Archived from the original on December 31, 2019. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
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  15. ^ Eichenbaum 2011, p. 143.
  16. ^ "Teri Garr - My Life So Far". Ability Magazine. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  17. ^ a b "Talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation". David Winters.net. 2004. Archived from the original on March 2, 2004. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  18. ^ Leszcak 2014, p. 52.
  19. ^ Mayberry R.F.D. Season 01. Episode 12. 1968.
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  21. ^ Lisanti 2015, p. 134.
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  24. ^ a b Eder, Richard (January 17, 1978). "Stage: Phoenix's 'One Crack Out'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 22, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  25. ^ "Tootsie (1982)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Archived from the original on October 21, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
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  28. ^ Wascalus, Jacob (2007). "Teri Garr–My Life So Far". No. 1. Ability Magazine. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved June 21, 2007.
  29. ^ "David Letterman - 25 Years and Still Going Strong" (PDF). CBS. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 20, 2007. Retrieved June 21, 2007.
  30. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCL_DKKG-mU&t=0s Apology is made to Garr in around the 1:07:40 mark
  31. ^ Callegari, Caitlyn (January 20, 2016). "What The Parents From 'Friends' Look Like Now Vs. Their '90s Looks". Bustle. Archived from the original on October 21, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
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  33. ^ Holden, Stephen (August 4, 1999). "FILM REVIEW; That Gap in the Nixon Tapes? Maybe a Teen-Age Cry of Love". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 22, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  34. ^ Eisner, Ken (June 21, 2001). "Ghost World". Variety. Penske Media Corporation.
  35. ^ "Shields, Ruehl and Garr Booked for OB's Monologues". Playbill. July 31, 2000. Archived from the original on October 22, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
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  37. ^ a b Gajilan, A. Chris (August 6, 2008). "Teri Garr: Post-aneurysm, comedy keeps her going". CNN. Archived from the original on October 21, 2018. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  38. ^ "Wake Up Call". The Moth. December 9, 2009. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  39. ^ "19th Annual Race To Erase MS". Getty Images. May 18, 2012. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
  40. ^ a b Bricker, Rebecca (February 21, 1983). "Teri Garr Is No Dizzy Blonde, but Acting Like One in Tootsie Hasn't Hurt". People. Archived from the original on October 22, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  41. ^ Garr, Teri (October 30, 1988). "Is Teri Garr Serious When She Says She Isn't Serious? On Tour, The Actress Drops Her Comedic Guard". Chicago Tribune. Interviewed by Johanna Steinmetz. Archived from the original on March 28, 2014. Well, I lived with two men, one for seven years, the other for five. I was with Birnbaum (Roger Birnbaum, an independent producer) for seven. That was like a marriage.
  42. ^ "ACTRESS WANTS A DIVORCE - ALONG WITH ALL EARNINGS". Deseret News. Salt Lake City, Utah. February 8, 1996. Archived from the original on October 21, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  43. ^ "Judge Orders Woman to Leave Actress Alone". Los Angeles Times. July 17, 1990. Archived from the original on October 21, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
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  45. ^ "Actress Teri Garr named as multiple sclerosis national chairwoman". News-Medical.net. April 29, 2004. Retrieved June 5, 2007.
  46. ^ "Teri Garr Battles Multiple Sclerosis With a Positive Outlook With the Help of Her Family". Closer Weekly. August 23, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2016.
  47. ^ Tan, Michelle (January 2, 2007). "Teri Garr Recovering from Brain Aneurysm". People. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
  48. ^ "David Letterman-Teri Garr-June-19-2008". YouTube. Archived from the original on November 9, 2021. Retrieved November 7, 2017.
  49. ^ "Nation's nuclear weapons center penetrated". United Press International. March 13, 1988. Archived from the original on October 21, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  50. ^ Smith, Liz (December 5, 2000). "Wisecracking Teri Garr At Gay Hotline Benefit / Olivia Newton John in tears at fund-raiser". San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco, California. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  51. ^ "All day Art". Los Angeles Times. November 29, 2001. Archived from the original on October 22, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  52. ^ Windolf, Jim (April 2008). "Chicks with Schticks". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Archived from the original on October 22, 2018. Retrieved October 22, 2018.
  53. ^ "Film in 1984". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Archived from the original on May 2, 2013. Retrieved October 21, 2018.
  54. ^ "Best Ensemble Cast". National Board of Review. Archive. Archived from the original on October 7, 2013. Retrieved October 21, 2018.

Works cited[edit]

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