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Many people would attribute Teri Garrs success to sweat, dedication and raw talent. But she gives top billing to a Beverly Hills numerologist, who convinced her to alter her name. It was the best $35 I ever spent, the actress and public speaker declares in the pages of her memoir, Speedbumps. There, the artist formerly known as Terry Ann Garr, dishes dizzying details of her start in Hollywood, from her commercials for Doritos to dancing roles on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, to her part in Francis Ford Coppolas film The Conversation, which earned her the Palm dOr nomination at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival. She followed that with Young Frankenstein, Oh, God! and One from the Heart, before hitting the jackpot with Tootsie, where her part as the spurned girlfriend, Sandy, led to an Academy Award nomination.
From the outside,
everything appeared sparkly. But during much of her career, Garr experienced
mild symptoms that would turn out to be multiple sclerosis: tingling,
tripping, muscle weakness, fatigue. The side effects were annoying, but
not as much as the gossip-mill. Acting jobs began to disappear. Yet Garr
pressed on. In addition to her role as an inspirational speaker, shes
recently been in a number of movies, as well as on the TV series Law &
Order: Special Victims Unit. On top of that, shes a full-time parent.
In her book, she reveals the wit, passion and determination that fuel
I couldnt wait
to finish high school because classes got in the way of my career. At
the end of my senior year, I auditioned for the cast of the Los Angeles
Road Company production of West Side Story. The movie starring Natalie
Wood, Richard Beymer, and Rita Moreno had just come out and was a raging
success. Most of the dancers from the original Broadway cast and from
the movie wanted to work in Hollywood, so they decided to be in the LA
production to see if they could get some attention from the industry.
As a result, the producers needed only to fill one or two spots in the
supporting cast. So I went to a rehearsal hall somewhere in Hollywood
with my friend, Lynn, and a bunch of other female dancers my age, to try
out for a part as one of the Jet girls.
I was eliminated right
away. Didnt make it past the first round. Out. Finished. Good-bye.
I was crushed.
The dancing in the
audition had been a breeze, but I guess my acting had hit the wrong note.
I knew I was good enough for the part, so I stayed around and watched
who they were choosing. It seemed to be non-smiling tough chicks... I
could do that. Then my friend Lynn told me shed been called back.
The second round of auditions was the next day. Perfect! I said to Lynn,
Im going with you. Lynn said, Teri, you were dinged.
You cant go back! To which I brazenly replied, Theyll
never remember me. Besides, I know what they want now. I was convinced
that they didnt choose me because I smiled too much. So I went to
the callback, and I was cast as a Jet girl. And Lynn, despite her legitimate
callback, wasnt. Apparently, thats showbiz. I dont think
she ever forgave me for that.
When it came to my
burgeoning career, I wasnt going to accept rejection. If they didnt
realize how great I was, I had to give them a little nudge.
For their own good. Of course.
NIGHT FRANKIE, NIGHT
He said, Oh
yeah? What can you do?
I was on the spot.
Id never done a dive in my life, much less a stunt. So I said the
first thing that came into my head. I can do a... Blonya.
He said, Whats
a Blonya? Good question. What was a Blonya? I had no idea. I
cant explain it. It can only be filmed once because I go up to the
end of the board and I do this... thing. I was clearly a brilliant,
articulate, stunt-driving pajama girl.
He said, How
much do you want for it?
Now we were negotiating.
He looked at me. I
All right, Ill
do it for two hundred fifty. I had no idea what I was doing, but
I could see that if I was smart and aggressive in this business, I could
get further faster. So when they said, Okay, were rolling...
and, ACTION! I ran off the end of the diving board and did what
felt like a double reverse somersault with six and a half twists. It ended
in the most painful belly flop of my life, but that part of the dive didnt
appear in the movie. When I got the $250, it felt like winning a prize.
Aha! Now the tables
were turned, and they wanted me for the movie. But it wasnt even
the lead role. As far as I was concerned, it was too little, too late.
Theyd have to do their little movie without me. Except... it was
Sydney Pollack, a great, talented, and powerful director. So I agreed
to have a meeting and talk about it. (Nice of Queen Teri, huh?)
SQUELCHING MY INNER
On my way to the meeting
with Sydney, I gave myself a pep talk. Im gonna play the game,
said I to me. But Im really saying no. Im trying to
build a career here. I guess Sydney had anticipated my reluctance,
because before I could even begin to demur, he charmed me. He explained
that Elaine May had championed me, and he admitted that he was persuading
me for her sake. I appreciated his honesty. He was so straightforward
and charismatic that I was curious to see what it would be like to be
under his direction. And I like the way he talked about my character.
He wanted her to be more than just a put-upon girlfriend. He knew the
movie would walk a tightrope through the feminism of the day (it would
be released in 1981) and explained that he believed I could make Sandy
a complex characterbelievable, funny, and just sympathetic enough,
without making Dustins character seem like a jerk.
Sydney was a straight
shooter. The more I talked to him, the more I wanted the chance to work
with him. Besides, he showed me some scenes from the script, including
one in which Sandy had a line that cracked me up: I had a wonderful
time at your party. Do you have any Seconal? Plus, really, was I
going to say no? Here was my chance to make a movie with Dustin Hoffman
and Sydney Pollack! So I squelched my inner diva, who had said shed
only accept the lead, and took what turned out to be one of the most rewarding
roles of my life.
One November night in 1985, Dave decided to do a show from his office. Not the studio, mind you, but his actual office, upstairs from the studio. It was the Too Tired to Do a Show show. I was the first guest to appear that night. We sat in his office. There was no audience, so there was no laughter, live or canned. He said, This is my office. I have my own bathroom. Do you want to see it? Do you want to take a shower?....Continued in ABILITY Magazine
by Jacob Wascalus
EDITORS NOTE: When ABILITYs editor-in-chief Chet Cooper arrived at Teri Garrs house on Dec. 21st for a scheduled interview, her daughter Molly, invited him into the living room, and said, Let me get her, I think shes still in bed. Twenty minutes later, Molly returned with disappointing news. Im so sorry, she said, but it looks like shes too tired and is not going to come down. It turns out that Teri Garr had a brain aneurysm that day. After a non-invasive procedure to treat it, the actress is recovering nicely. Shes alert. Shes sitting up. Shes talking, says Heidi Schaeffer, Garrs rep. The prognosis is very, very good. So good, in fact, that the actress celebrated the New Year by tackling a New York Times crossword puzzle. (no mention yet of her trying ABILITYs new crossword puzzle)
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