Garr, Teri

Teri Garr: the unknown actress


From the Dec. 25, 1982, Deseret News

NEW YORK – Teri Garr is a very funny lady with an off-center sense of humor and a pause-and-rethink, self-effacing manner that reminds one distinctly of Diane Keaton — particularly in "Annie Hall."

Garr is an excellent comic-dramatic actress with a long list of movie hits to her credit, but despite her talent in prominent roles she is usually overshadowed by others.

"I don't get parts that are very central to the story but I do the best I can," she explained during roundtable interviews in New York recently. "I sort of consider myself a character actor. They're usually exposition parts that advance the story. I'd like to go into one of those deep character parts where they (members of the audience) remember me, but what am I supposed to do, put my name on my forehead?"

One of her upcoming films, "The Sting II," was recently previewed, and "all the people came out of the theater and said, ‘We know that girl but we don't know her name.' "

That dilemma is also born out in her latest film, "Tootsie," where she takes a back seat to Dustin Hoffman in drag.


                                           Teri Garr, Dustin Hoffman, 'Tootsie'

Many of her films pose the same problem. She was Richard Dreyfuss' wife in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," she was the kooky Bavarian girl who eventually married Gene Wilder in "Young Frankenstein," she was John Denver's wife in "Oh, God!" and she was the little boy's mother in "The Black Stallion." And though she was terrific in every one, we tend to remember Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon, Denver and George Burns, and the boy and the horse, respectively.

In a way, that's part of her appeal; she doesn't draw undue attention to herself.

Garr has worked for some of Hollywood's most famous directors and was part of Francis Ford Coppola's failed dream, Zoetrope Studios, starring in his failed film "One From the Heart." And she isn't hesitant to express her opinions about any of them — or herself.

On her own background: "My father was an actor, he was in vaudeville and had a nightclub act. His name was Eddie Garr. He acted on Broadway in "Tobacco Road" and quite a few things. He was really funny.

"My mother was a Rockette and a dancer, and they met in a show." She pauses and smiles. "I was born in a trunk.

"I started out as a dancer and chorus girl, and I used to look down at these guys with the cigars. Now I'm not a violent feminist but I think that magazines like Playboy should be abolished because they make women be sex objects, and when their bodies get wrinkles, they throw them out the window and get new ones. I don't think that's fair; these are human beings.

"So maybe I've shied away from sexy roles — but I usually don't get cast in them, either."

On Coppola: "Francis wanted to be this artist, run a studio and have a repertory company, which sounds good on paper. But it's like telling the artists to run the museum — all the artists want to put up their own paintings.

"So Francis brought in all these filmmakers, then he wanted to make the films himself, to put his stamp on them and direct a scene in them — and ultimately it didn't work, it just wasn't right.

"He was a crazy man, and trying to please him wasn't easy.

"He starts in with these obscure metaphors: ‘It's like the scarf that was blown by the wind and it was soaked with ice,' and you try to listen and make sense of it, and finally he just sucks the air out of your head and you lay down and say, ‘Oh, no, I can't think anymore.' "

Steven Spielberg: "Steven is a great filmmaker. He's had these ideas incubating for years. He sure knows how to make a movie, that Steven. I'd love to work with him again."

Dustin Hoffman: "He's an actor. He will not make a movie until he knows exactly what this is and what that is. I learned a lot from him."


                             Dustin Hoffman, left, Teri Garr and Sydney Pollack, who directed 'Tootsie' and has a supporting role

Sydney Pollack (director of "Tootsie"): "Sydney treats the actors more like people. When Francis said he wanted a stable of actors, he wanted you to be an animal in a stable. Sydney was just the opposite of that. He wouldn't give you a lot of stories and confusion. He actually trusted what you gave."

Jackie Gleason (her co-star in "The Sting II"): "He told me he used to steal jokes from my father. He could be intimidating. He's like a king. He used to snap his fingers and get a cigarette, and do all those kinds of notorious things. He's a star, Jackie Gleason. He's funny, though. He knows what he's doing. He's been around for a long time."

Her role in the upcoming "Return of the Black Stallion:" "I really had no part in it. In the beginning of the movie the barn catches fire and the horse runs away and I say, ‘Fire Department, quick!' And that's all you see of me."

Scripts: "People are like Pavlov's dogs. They see me in one thing and I get the housewife role over and over again."