DATE December 5, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Teri Garr talks about her work and her life
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
She danced in nine Elvis movies, made her screen debut opposite Gene Hackman
in "The Conversation," played the doctor's assistant and girlfriend in "Young
Frankenstein" and was nominated for an Oscar for her supporting role in
"Tootsie." My guest is Teri Garr. She's written a new memoir called
"Speedbumps." The biggest speed bump she writes about is multiple sclerosis.
In 2002 she announced on TV that she had MS. The symptoms had begun years
earlier but it took a long time to get an accurate diagnosis.
Before we talk about her health, let's hear about the movies that made her
famous. Here's a scene from the 1982 film "Tootsie" which starred Dustin
Hoffman as an out-of-work actor so desperate for a part that he masquerades as
a woman in order to land a female role on a soap opera. He falls in love with
an actress on the set, who doesn't realize he's a man. In the meantime, he's
lost interest in his girlfriend, played by Teri Garr. In this scene Garr asks
why he hasn't been returning her phone calls and she insists that he tell her
(Soundbite of "Tootsie")
Mr. DUSTIN HOFFMAN (As Michael Dorsey) I'm going to tell you the truth.
Sandy, I'm in love with another woman.
Ms. TERI GARR (Actress): (As Sandy) (Screaming) What are you saying?
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Michael) Sandy, please...
Ms. GARR: (As Sandy) You liar, you liar.
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Michael) ...don't go--we never said we loved each other.
Ms. GARR: (As Sandy) Why are you doing this to me? I don't care if I say I
Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Michael) Sandy, I'm crazy about you. You're one of the
dearest friends I have ever had but let's not pretend that we're something
else. We're going to lose everything we have.
Ms. GARR: I never said I love you. I don't care about I love you. I read
"The Second Sex." I read "The Cinderella Complex." I'm responsible for my own
orgasms. I don't care. I just don't like to be lied to.
GROSS: That's Teri Garr and Dustin Hoffman in a scene from "Tootsie." Teri
Garr, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Ms. GARR: Thank you, Terry, nice to be here.
GROSS: Now you actually wrote some of your lines for this scene. You say in
your book that the character was supposed to get just really angry and flip
out when she finds out from Dustin Hoffman that he's in love with another
woman, but that didn't ring true to you. Why didn't it ring true and how did
you change what the character said?
Ms. GARR: Well, I think it didn't ring true because what the character was
was supposed to be this independent woman. Of course, she was in the middle
of trying to be connected to a man and truly connected to her career. So she
was a little bit on the fence there. But I think initially if someone said,
`I'm not in love with you. I'm in love with someone else.' she goes `So what,
that's got nothing to do with me.' And I suggested to Sydney Pollack that I
write something about it. I had done a lot of research about the feminist
movement at that time so I was reading all the books at the time that
were--Betty Friedan and Shere Hite had a book and all these--I was reading
all these books and some of them actually made me laugh so much. But I said,
well, if you let me do one take where I can just spew out all this stuff that
I've been reading, I think it'll work.
GROSS: And so you wrote all the stuff about...
Ms. GARR: I did. And I did see that one line that said, `I'm responsible
for my own orgasms,' and I remember when I read that--that was in Sherry
Hite's book--I went, `What does that mean?' I didn't even know what it meant
but I thought, well, I'm throwing it in anyway because it's funny.
GROSS: It's funny and it's very of its time.
Ms. GARR: Yeah, of its time is right.
GROSS: It must have been fun to act opposite Dustin Hoffman in that movie. I
mean, he's such a good actor and you could really, like, work off of him and
you're shouting at each other and talking at the same time.
Ms. GARR: Yes. I really appreciate Dustin Hoffman. He really tries to get
a reaction out of everybody. A lot of your actors don't like that. But, you
know, I would be in the scene with him where we're coming out of a elevator
and they'd say, `All right, we're rolling and action.' And the elevator doors
would open and he would pinch me in the butt. So that all the stuff I had
planned and all the stuff I was concentrating on was out the window, but in a
way it's a wonderful thing because it keeps you spontaneous and fresh and, you
know, the camera's catching something that's completely spontaneous. So I
sort of loved working for him. I don't think Jessica Lange went for it too
much, and I know that Sydney Pollack didn't--`Stop it--fooling around.' But
he's a wonderfully inventive, wonderful actor.
GROSS: Do you think Hoffman's goal was to keep you in the moment and keep you
fresh or to just fool with you?
Ms. GARR: Oh, he's just a play kid, puppy. You know, he just likes to play.
I think he does it--I saw him on an interview with Barbra Streisand recently
for that movie "Meet the Fockers" and he was teasing her and driving her
crazy. So he just likes to tease you. And he likes to see if anybody is--got
a set thing that they're going to do. He likes to obliterate that somehow,
which is very childlike and charming, I guess.
You know, I'll tell you one thing that happened during that movie that was
interesting is that Dustin told me that you could lose 10 pounds by going in
the sauna. And I always, you know--and what actress doesn't want to lose 10
pounds or five pounds or whatever? `The longer you stay in there, the more
the weight you lose. I do it. Paul Newman does'--I mean, that's all he had
to tell me. So I went, `All right. I'm going to try this.' So I go into the
sauna. I'd stay 15 minutes, which was unbearable. Then I'd do it again for
maybe 20. Then I got myself up to 40 minutes, maybe 50 minutes, and I would
come out of the sauna and fall in a pile on the floor, just ruined and like
cooked shrimp laying there. And then, you know, eventually I would be able to
gather my strength and move on.
Well, here's what I find out later. This thing about MS that it's these
lesions that stay quiet in your body, the thing that exacerbates them, maybe
the number one thing that exacerbates them, is temperature. So you try to
stay out of heat and I'm always acutely aware of heat. So here I was thinking
I was losing weight but I was actually starting up the MS during that movie.
I mean, it's possible that that's what I was doing. But, you know,
GROSS: Did you feel symptomatic during the movie?
Ms. GARR: Well, shortly after that, I got some really--yes, I did feel
symptomatic. I ended up in the hospital. I think that was maybe my first
exacerbation right after that movie was finished.
GROSS: Well, let me ask you about another movie you were in and that is
"Young Frankenstein" or "Young Frankenstein (pronounced Frank-in-schteen)."
Ms. GARR: "Frankenstein (pronounced Fraunk-in-schtine)." Yeah.
GROSS: Yes, directed by Mel Brooks. How did you get to work with him?
Ms. GARR: Well, there was rumors going around town that there was a big
movie being cast and there was lots of girls going up for this audience and I
got my agent to get me in on it, you know, 500 girls. When I went there, Mel
Brooks said, `We're casting for the part of the fiancee'--the fiancee
(pronounced financier) he called it--`but I want Madeline Kahn to do it. I
just want you to know, but she doesn't want to do it because she doesn't want
to do a comedy but I'm auditioning all these girls.' So I went in and then I
got called back and called back and I was very excited that I even got called
back. Finally one day I got called back and he said, `Madeline has decided to
do this part, but if you can come back tomorrow, I'll give you a chance to
audition for the part of Inga, the lab assistant, but you have to have a
German accent. Can you come'--and so I had 24 hours to get a German accent
together and I did 'cause I copied Cher's wig maker who had a German accent.
GROSS: You were working on "The Sonny and Cher" show at the time.
Ms. GARR: (German accent) Yes, I was working on "The Sonny and Cher" show at
the time, and, see, I was Fernata(ph) with the wigs.
GROSS: Did you learn things about comic timing working with Mel Brooks on
Ms. GARR: Well, I don't think you can learn comic timing. I think I must
have innately grown up with, you know, my mother and father from vaudeville and
stuff and lots of jokes around the house, but I had been working on "Sonny and
Cher" show as a dancer and also in these horrible comedy sketches and I sort
of had learned comic timing then. Also I was an incredible fan of Mel Brooks'
"The 2000 Year Old Man." I had listened to those records hundreds of times
as a kid and memorized them and did them over and over again. So I sort of
knew his rhythm, but he is one of God's gifts to this planet. Mel Brooks is
just the funniest man in the world. He is really funny.
GROSS: What did he call you, a schiksigodess(ph)
Ms. GARR: Schiksigodess. My long-waisted schiksigodess. No. And then he
called Peter Boyle and I, `Come here, Treyf.' We were both Trey--I don't
know what it means exactly. And then at one point...
GROSS: Not kosher.
Ms. GARR: ...I said, `Well, Mel, you're so wonderful. I wish I was Jewish.'
`You're Jewish. You are a Jewish by injection.' I don't know what he meant,
GROSS: My guest is actress Teri Garr. Her new memoir is called "Speedbumps."
Here's a scene from "Young Frankenstein." Dr. Frankenstein has just been
fooling around with his seductive lab assistant, played by Teri Garr. In this
scene, his assistant Igor, played by Marty Feldman, has escorted the
doctor's fiancee to the castle. The fiancee is played by Madeline Kahn.
(Soundbite from "Young Frankenstein")
Mr. GENE WILDER: (As Dr. Frankenstein) I'd like you to meet my assistants,
Inga and Igor.
Ms. MADELINE KAHN: (As Elizabeth) How do you do? How do you do?
Mr. WILDER: (As Dr. Frankenstein) Now this is my fiancee (pronounced
Ms. GARR: (As Inga) Oh, I'm so happy to meet you at least.
Mr. WILDER: (As Dr. Frankenstein) My fiancee.
Ms. KAHN: (As Elizabeth) Excuse me, darling. What is it exactly that you do
Ms. GARR: (As Inga) Oh, well, I assist Dr. Frankenstein in the laboratory.
We have intellectual discussions only. As a matter of fact, we were just
having one as you were driving up...
Mr. WILDER: (As Dr. Frankenstein) Well, I...
Ms. GARR: (As Inga) What?
Mr. WILDER: (As Dr. Frankenstein) (mumbles)
Ms. GARR: (As Inga) What?
Mr. WILDER: (As Dr. Frankenstein) Igor, will you give me a hand with the
Mr. MARTY FELDMAN: (As Igor) Certainly. You take the blonde and I'll take
the one in the turban. (Growls)
Ms. GARR: (As Inga) Oh!
GROSS: We'll talk more with Teri Garr after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is actress Teri Garr. She's written a new memoir called
You started off as a dancer, and among your accomplishments, you danced in
nine Elvis Presley movies.
Ms. GARR: I'm not sure that's an accomplishment. You know, some of these
things are credits, some of them are debits, and that was filler.
GROSS: OK. Movies that you danced in include--correct me if I'm wrong
here--"Viva Las Vegas"--all Elvis films--"Roustabout," "Kissin' Cousins,"
Ms. GARR: Yeah, among others. Yeah, at that time, he was doing about at
least four movies a year, bad ones in Hollywood, but I had worked in "West
Side Story," you know, with the original cast, Jerry Robbins. So I was a
really good legit dancer. And one of the guys in the show became a
choreographer for "Viva Las Vegas." He said, `You guys want to come down to
this audition?' So we went, `Well, sure. Let's do that.' So then in those
days once you got into the union or the central casting, they just called you
again and again and again. So I started, you know, going to all the
auditions. I mean, I danced in Elvis Presley movies but I also danced in
Shirley MacLaine movies, "What A Way To Go!" and "John Goldfarb, Please Come
Home," a big movie, and a lot of other little movies that they just called me
for. So that's how that started. I'd put--it'd be like one step ahead of
being a cocktail waitress, that you could be a dance...
GROSS: But why? It sounds like so much fun to dance in an Elvis film.
Ms. GARR: Actually it was great fun to dance in Elvis movies.
GROSS: What's the silliest number you were in in one of the Elvis films?
Ms. GARR: Oh, man, they were all pretty bad. I guess in that "Clambake"
thing, there was something about digging for clams and, oh, man, they were all
bad. But you know what? It was so funny 'cause I grew up with my mother
telling me stories about being a Rockette. She said, `We had to do
everything. We had to learn to play the violin one week and the drums the
next week and'--so she was always telling me how they were so versicle so that
when we did these silly "Clambake" and whatever they were with Elvis, I
thought, `Well, I'm in the same boat as my mom.'
GROSS: Your mom was one of the original Rockettes.
Ms. GARR: Yes, she was. Original Rockettes. They were called the
Rocsiettes(ph) or something when she first went in there. I know the history
of the Rockettes, believe me.
GROSS: So did you get to hang out with Elvis?
Ms. GARR: Well, a little bit. I mean, you know, I'm sure there's been so
much written about Elvis, but he was out there, like, you know, a fish out of
water and he's in Hollywood and making movies and I also think he had a kind
of a morbid fascination with his Colonel Parker and whatever he told him to
do, `You go to Hollywood. You make these movies.' So there he was and he
brought all his boys with him and they'd hang out on the set. `You girls want
to come to a party at Elvis' tonight?' I went, `Well, yeah. OK.' So we go to
Elvis' but he should have actually said, `Do you want to come and watch Elvis
watch TV or something,' 'cause that's more like it was.
But I was fascinated by the whole thing. I was fascinated by him. He was
such a talented, you know, charismatic guy and I looked at him, I thought,
`You know, he should be in front of an audience, not on the sound stage. He's
just kind of wasting it.' But anyway, I got to be kind of friends with him.
You know, he was very funny and I don't think--people don't talk about that.
He was really--he had a great sense of humor, very funny. I laughed all the
GROSS: Well, something else you touched on. You were one of the dancers on
Ms. GARR: Yes.
GROSS: ...which was, you know, one of the rock 'n' roll shows. The bands
would be there and there were dancers. You were in a cage, right?
Ms. GARR: No, we were--we--they were called pods.
GROSS: You were on, like, a pedestal. Yeah. And what were the dances that
you had to do? This was probably--What?--'67?
Ms. GARR: '67 or '68. Well, they were called things like the watusi and the
swim and the--something like that. We also did mostly--that same guy who
choreographed "Viva Las Vegas" choreographed "Shindig!" for a while. So we
did some real dancing on that, some numbers we called them. I don't know.
GROSS: My impression from the book is that you didn't particularly enjoy
Ms. GARR: Well, know, the minute I got into "West Side Story" and I had one
line, even though I had danced and I really wanted to be a ballerina and ABT
and everything. I had this one line. And I got a reaction from this one
line. I thought, `Now I feel I want to be an actor. I want to be an
actress,' or, you know, `I want to be in the front. I don't want to be in the
back.' So that's--I think when I got this thing about being on "Shindig!" or
"Shivaree" was another one I was on, `Well, I can't really be on these
permanently. I'm busy--I'm going on.' I mean, I had it in my head then that I
was going to move on and out of the chorus line. `So, please, don't tie me
down to a series. I'm sorry. I can't do this.'
GROSS: One of the ways you made the transition from dancing to acting is that
you got an agent who got you a lot of TV commercials...
Ms. GARR: Yeah.
GROSS: ...and that was your portfolio in a way for--I guess for casting
Ms. GARR: Yes, I was very lucky to be able to do all these TV commercials at
some point, and I think that was a big learning experience, too, because in a
way, you know, selling some product is acting. So I was studying acting. I
was trying to do plays. I was taking dancing jobs. But I was also doing all
these commercials and going on all these commercial auditions, and there must
have been--you know, you could go on six or seven auditions a day. So that's
a great learning experience. I don't think people could do that these days.
But, yeah, I did a lot of that and then I started making a pretty good living
just doing commercials. I said, `I can phase out these dancing jobs.' But I
never did, not totally. I mean, it took me about 10 years.
GROSS: OK. Products--you did TV commercials for include Crest, Safeguard
soap, Greyhound bus lines, Camey soup(ph), Bold detergent, Sure deodorant,
General Foods breakfast squares. So many commercials you have to look almost
orgasmic as you taste the breakfast cereal or as you inhale the perfumed soap.
Did you have to have that really kind of fake, like, `Wow, it's amazing'
expression on your face for the commercials?
Ms. GARR: Yes, always. I remember once I did a commercial for Metrical.
Do you remember what Metrical was?
GROSS: Oh, yes, it was a diet fluid.
Ms. GARR: It was a diet fluid that you ate for lunch and you didn't eat--so
I was doing this commercial and I was supposed to be in the teachers' lounge
with--Penny Marshall was one of the other teachers and I drank so much
Metrical that I was getting ready to puke and they said--and I heard them say,
`OK. Get the bucket,' and Penny and I both looked at each other and went,
`What do they mean, get the bucket?' So they--I would drink some of the
Metrical. They would pan the camera off of me. Then I would spit the
Metrical into this bucket. Then they would pan back to me and I'd go, `Mm,
delicious.' Well, I want to tell you it was very difficult to do without
laughing, 'cause you'd hear this noise `pu dili la' and then, `Fabulous. It's
so delicious.' Anyway, I had a good time doing many commercials. They're
GROSS: I see.
Ms. GARR: They kind of do them at the seat of their pants, but then in
commercials, everything has to be done legally, correctly, but I learned a lot
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is actress Teri Garr and she has a
new book. It's an autobiography that's called "Speedbumps: Flooring It
Now the first real movie role that you got, like major movie role, was in "The
Ms. GARR: Right.
GROSS: ...with--you know, directed by Coppola, starring Gene Hackman. Like,
does it get better than that...
Ms. GARR: It doesn't.
GROSS: ...for starting a movie career?
Ms. GARR: I was absolutely in shock. I told you I was doing commercials at
the time. So one of the commercial casting directors was casting his film,
and she said, `Do you want to go up for this part?' And I said, `Of course, I
go up for everything.' So I went and met with Coppola and I thought that would
be the end of it. I said, `Wow, you guys, I met Francis Coppola.' Then a
couple days later, they said, `They want you to audition.' I said, `Wow, this
is fabulous.' So I went and read and they said, `They want you to fly to San
Francisco to do a screen test.' I thought, `This must be some part. This
might be, like, the lead in a Francis Coppola movie.' So anyway I went, I flew
to San Francisco, did this audition and then flew back. He had me sing "When
The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along." You know, I have to say
Francis Coppola was one of the big influences of my life because I think back
on things that he had me do from the get-go and what they--how they were part
of the creative process and he really taught me what that was about in a way.
So anyway I went to San Francisco and auditioned and I came back, `Well,
that's that. I've done a screen test for Francis Coppola. I'm putting this
on my resume.' I never thought I would get the part. So then I got the part,
and they said, `And you have to be here tomorrow for the cast reading up in
San Francisco,' which I couldn't do 'cause I was working on "Sonny and Cher"
show. So that's how much I planned on getting this job, but I lied to them on
"The Sonny and Cher" show and said I was sick, I couldn't be there, and flew
up to San Francisco and read the entire script and realized that it was only
one scene in this whole movie. But still I wasn't going to turn it down. I
was very excited to have been in it, and I think it was really great to have
that be the first kind of recognizable part in a film was in "The
Conversation." Even though the next movie that came out that I was in was
"Young Frankenstein" where it was all funny and all that and it was a bigger
hit movie, it still kind of created a balance, you know, that this girl can
act and act and be funny.
GROSS: And it's an interesting scene. You're in bed and Hackman who's, you
know, your boyfriend walks in the door and you want to get to know him more.
He's this very closed, a noble guy and you keep asking him these questions and
he gets more and more closed the more question you ask. So it's a pretty
interesting scene. Why did Coppola ask you to sing "Red, Red Robin" in your
Ms. GARR: Well, I don't know. I mean, I think it had something to do with he
wanted to see that character, if she could be, like, ingenious and naive and
just jump in and do something cute and sweet. I mean, looking back on it now,
I see that. That's--it was his fantasy. He always wanted to have a girl that
was just in a room that would just be there for him that didn't know anything
about him but that was happy and positive and not bitching about being locked
in a room.
GROSS: This was Hackman's fantasy in the new movie?
Ms. GARR: No--Well, it was Francis'.
GROSS: You think it's Coppola's fantasy?
Ms. GARR: Oh, yeah, definitely.
Ms. GARR: Well, that whole movie was his fantasy. It was more about his
Catholic confessional thing of listening to what people were saying and very
interesting, revealing movie about the man who wrote it who was Francis
Coppola. But, yeah, that was what that was about basically.
GROSS: So you worked with Coppola not only on "The Conversation" but on "One
From The Heart." And you suspect that it was during the filming of "One From
The Heart, when you had an accident, that it kind of started your MS.
Ms. GARR: Well, I do suspect that but I could be wrong, but I think it's one
of the reasons I wrote about it in the book was because I want other people
that have MS to think maybe something like this happened to them. But there's
a theory out there that MS is a virus that's in you, but--like, everyone gets
chicken pox or some kind of virus, it stays and lays dormant. But some kind of
trauma or some kind of exac--something will exacerbate it. So I do remember
dropping a broken champagne bottle which is thick glass on the top of my foot
and it broke--it severed the tendon in my foot and I felt like it went boing,
boing, boing in my head or something like that. And when I look back on that,
I think, `I wonder if that was the thing that started the MS and activated
it.' You know, I could be dead wrong, but I did write that in my book 'cause
I thought that maybe was when I first started experiencing little--you know,
things that weren't right and I couldn't control my body as well as I could.
I mean, here I was a dancer and a good one and I just couldn't make myself do
it. `What's going on? Am I lazy? Am I getting tired?' And I think that's
when it started to happen.
GROSS: And the champagne bottle that you dropped, that was in a scene from
"One From The Heart."
Ms. GARR: Right. I was supposed to be carrying groceries in and then I
dropped it and it broke on my foot. Right.
GROSS: This was early in the film.
Ms. GARR: Yeah.
Teri Garr's new memoir is called "Speedbumps." She'll be back in the second
half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. JELLY ROLL MORTON: This one's a real favorite ...(unintelligible).
Unidentified Man #2: ...(Unintelligible)
GROSS: The complete Library of Congress recordings of Jelly Roll Morton have
just been released on CD. They feature Morton playing and talking. Coming
up, Kevin Whitehead has a review and we continue our interview with actress
(Soundbite of "My Gal Sal")
Mr. MORTON: (Singing) A peculiar sort of gal with a heart that was mellow,
an all 'round good fellow, was my old pal. Your troubles, worries and care
she was always willing to share. A wild sort of devil, but dead on the level
was my gal Sal.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with actress Teri Garr. Her
films include "The Conversation," "Young Frankenstein," "Tootsie," "Close
Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Ghost World." She's written a new memoir
called "Speedbumps." Part of the book is about how her life has been changed
by multiple sclerosis. She announced that she had MS in 2002. She had
symptoms years before she was accurately diagnosed.
So what were your early symptoms? When did you start to feel like this is
something that you needed to pay attention to and take seriously?
Ms. GARR: Well, I don't--their--the symptoms--I always have this ego that
I'm fine and I'm perfect--physical specimen, that anything that did happen to
me, I sort of ignored it: `Well, this is normal. Everybody gets this.' But
I know that one of the first things that happened to me was years ago I'd feel
like this buzzing in my foot, a buzzing like your cell phone or something.
And then I thought--well, it couldn't be a cell phone because we didn't have
cell phones back then. I mean, we had cell phones, but they were the size of
canoes. So it wasn't that. But I didn't know what it was. And then it would
go away. And then I had--where I would run--I was a big jogger and I would
run in Central Park and I would trip on something. I'd think: What?
What--rock? What did I trip--I almost just went--flying leap. And then that
would go away, so there would this be tingling and maybe a stabbing pain in my
arm, which was another thing. When you heat up your body by exercising and
running, the--it seemed to exacerbate these pains and it would make me be
weaker. And then when I felt this, you know, stabbing pain in my arm in
Central Park, I thought, `Well, maybe it is a knife because I'm in Central
Park.' But there wasn't.
So those--but then--I would get those symptoms and then they would go away,
so that by the time I got myself to a doctor and said, `Now check this out,'
it would be gone. Because MS is relapsing and remitting. So the doctors
would go, `Honey, honey, you know, there's nothing wrong with you. You're
fine. You're--you might be a little crazy, a little hypochondriac.' And I'm
just sitting there like, `Well, maybe they're right. I guess I'm a
hypochon--but I never had been a hypochondriac. In fact, I would like to stay
away from doctors as much as I can and not--I would go for the last minute.
So by the time I'd get my butt to the doctor and he'd say, `Nothing wrong with
you,' I'd go, `Oh, you know, I've wasted so much time. I could be in class
right now or something, reading.' So not good.
GROSS: How do you think being a dancer and being very attuned to your body
and being taught to just kind of go on because you always have aches and pains
as a dancer--how do you think that affected your ability to cope with the
symptoms of MS?
Ms. GARR: Oh, I think it was absolutely a wonderful thing to have been a
dancer, to have that discipline and to--just to be able to roll with the
punches and all the jobs that I did. And like I said, my mother teaching me
that when they were a Rockette, they had to learn the accordion in one day and
all that. It was something that I thought--it's why I call the book
Speedbumps." It was just something that made me slow down and go, `MS
diagnosis. OK, let's keep going.' How my life had progressed, I think, was a
great lesson in how to deal with an illness or a diagnosis. Because when you
start out in Hollywood or in New York or wherever in show business, it's 99
percent `Get out of here,' rejection, and you have to develop the hide of a
rhinoceros. But you still have to have the, you know, spirit of a butterfly
inside in order to do your art. So that really came in handy because I went,
`Well, I can handle this. I'll handle this MS. I don't know what it is.
I'll deal with it. I'll find out a way to do it, and I'm going to go on with
my life.' And that's what I did.
GROSS: On the other hand, I can see how being a dancer might have made you
more bitter about having MS, because your body was such a well-crafted tool?
Ms. GARR: Well, that's a nice thing to say. But I have never been bitter
and I've never had a--I don't really have any negative--I had little things
along the way. For example, I went to a doctor who said, `Now you're walking
weakly on your right side. I could put a brace on your leg.' And so he said,
`Try the brace.' I tried the brace. I walked--`This is fabulous. I'm
walking around the office. This is wonderful.' And then I looked and I said,
`I have to wear this all the time?' And he says, `Yeah.' I said, `Wait, you
don't understand. I'm Teri Garr. I'm known for my fabulous legs. Now I've
got to wear a brace on my leg.' And he just said, `Well, it's a small price
to pay.' And it was--instantly I went, `It sure is.' I mean, I would be able
to put it in perspective that I have to wear long pants or long skirts forever
now, but I can walk around better.
So it was one of those things where I was able to say, `What's better, showing
off my stupid legs or walking better?' So I walk better.
GROSS: Do you still wear the brace?
Ms. GARR: Oh, yeah. Got it on right now.
GROSS: How would you describe your walking now?
Ms. GARR: Oh, it's not good. I mean, it's got--I've gotten weaker. It comes
and goes, but it's--you know, more than the `How am I walking?' is, it's my
fatigue level. You know, I get really tired. For me to walk around the block
is like someone climbing Mt. Everest, and I think people with--who don't have
MS don't understand that. So that--it takes a lot of energy. But I walk a
little slower. But, you know, I walk across airports and I do a lot of
traveling and I--people start walking fast and going ahead of me. I go, `I'm
getting there, slow but sure.' And I try to keep a sense of humor about it
and a good attitude. I mean, not to say I make fun of myself, but I try to
make it easier on other people because I always think it's harder on them than
it is on me. I'm fine with it. I'm happy to be alive. But they must think,
`Oh, you poor thing. You're suffering.' And I'm not.
GROSS: Now your recent roles have included "Ghost World." You were the
mother of one of the two girls in the movie. And you were the mother of
Phoebe in "Friends."
Ms. GARR: That's right.
GROSS: And so two mother roles. Are you still acting now?
Ms. GARR: Oh, yes. I just did "Law & Order." I play a defense attorney
named Minerva Grahame-Bishop. Good name, huh? And I--that was a great job.
I'm a defense lawyer on that show. I've done one. I'm going to do another
one, and perhaps more.
GROSS: And does the MS get in the way of your performance?
Ms. GARR: No. How could it get in the way? I get in my way. I'm a
little--I feel like I'm a little bit rusty. But, no, it hasn't. You know, on
the "Law & Order" show, there's a cinematographer who's quite brilliant, and
he has MS and so they--he had a little scooter--motorized scooter around the
set. He said, `You want to borrow one of mine?' I said, `Sure.' And that
was great. See, that's one of the reasons I go around talking about living
with MS and talking about MS is that there are so many myths about it and that
people can go on with their lives and they can do good work. And I think the
myth is: No, they're dead. They're out. They're gone. They're in a
In fact, I was going to call my book, "Does This Wheelchair Make Me Look Fat?"
But I was afraid if I put `wheelchair' out there, oh, it's going to be another
big, you know, check mark against me. So I'm trying to--you know, I try to
keep it on the upper positive level that those of us with MS can still go on
and still function. And I want the rest of the world to believe it, and I
also want the people that have MS to believe it. Because I think they're
victims of the bad publicity, too, you know, that they go, `Oh, I have MS. I
better throw in the towel and go to my room and watch TV or something.' And
that's--no, no, no, you have to go on with your life.
GROSS: My guest is actress Teri Garr. Her new memoir is called "Speedbumps."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is actress Teri Garr. And she has
a new book. It's an autobiography that's called "Speedbumps: Flooring It
Could we talk about your parents a little bit?
Ms. GARR: Please.
GROSS: Your mother, as you mentioned, was a Rockette?
Ms. GARR: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: She was--you say she had wonderful legs. She did--what?--hosiery ads,
Ms. GARR: She did, yes.
GROSS: ...to show off her legs?
Ms. GARR: Yeah, she called herself `Legs Lynd(ph).'
GROSS: And then she also was like a wardrobe person for several TV shows?
Ms. GARR: Yeah, I think a lot of dancers become--go into wardrobe
afterwards. I don't know why that happens, but it's true. And she became a
costumer in LA. And my father died when I was 11, and he was in vaudeville
and they met in a Broadway show, my parents. And then he came out to
Hollywood to be movies and that didn't pan out and he became very ill. And,
you know, then he passed away. So my mother had to support three kids, you
know, by her wits. And it was--so she went and got a job in the studios as a
costumer. In fact, she was a costumer on "Young Frankenstein" before I even
got the job, and she told--`Don't tell anyone I'm your mother.' I thought,
`What is this about?' It's so weird. Anyway, I learned...
GROSS: Why didn't she want anyone to know?
Ms. GARR: I do not know to this day. I mean...
GROSS: Was it for her sake or your sake?
Ms. GARR: I don't know. But finally, I told Mel. I said, `You know that
lady over there? That's my mom.' He was so great because he's just a great
guy. And he--`Well, bring her over here.' You know, he was wonderful. I
just don't know what her motive was.
But she was a great, interesting woman. You know, she--her parents came from
Austria. They settled in Ohio and my grandfather said, `Girls go to secretary
school and that's what they do and you shut up and do that.' And my oldest
aunt did that and my mother and my other younger aunt said, `No, no. We're
not doing that.' They hitchhiked to New York when they were like 14 and 16 or
something like that. My mother became a Rockette. No, maybe--they must have
been a little bit older than that because they were out of high school. And
my aunt was a brilliant artist and a concert pianist and all this stuff. So
they had some aesthetic that they were not going to do what my grandfather
said. So it was the--to me, it was always the early feminists were doing
this, were going off to New York to take care of ourselves and, unfortunately,
she married my dad. And that put the end to that. But learning from it was
that you do what you want to do and you independently go--take care of
yourself and don't depend on a man. I mean, that was the idea that I got when
I was a kid.
GROSS: And what about your idea of show business, watching your parents? Did
it seem like a good life or a bad life?
Ms. GARR: Well, it did seem like a bad life. I mean, it seemed like a--not a
fair life or a fickle business, you know. And I think it's true. I just
recently was reading the review of the Elia Kazan's book, and he said the
same--he got older, he says, `Tell anybody that wants to be a director not to
do it because they throw you away.' I said well, then--Mr. Kazan is for
everybody. Everybody's got the same thing; that you have a peak and then it
fades away, you know? But so that goes with life, I guess.
But I didn't think that show business looked that fair, but I also somehow got
it in my head that I was going to beat it and that I was going to get in there
and do it, too. And I was very influenced by my mother when she worked at the
studios. And I was young then and I would go visit her and take the bus down
and hang out with her. And it was so exciting to be at a TV studio where
there was costumes and sets and people rushing around and music and
orchestras--I went, `I want to be part of this. I just want to be part of
And then, because my parents were in vaudeville, a lot of their friends came
out to Hollywood. Everybody wanted to be in the business. And they
didn't--it didn't happen, so they opened dancing schools. So I got to have
free dancing lessons in all these places where my parents, who had worked with
a dance team in Philly and a dog act in Boston and a this and a--they were all
out there, either maitre-d's or opening Orange Julius stands or something like
that. Very interesting, eclectic way that the fringe of show business kind of
settled in LA. And I was in that world. But it was always out there, the
show business thing. And he says, `Well, it's there for you. You can try it.
You can try and'--I said, `Well, I think I will. I'll think I'll try.' My
two older brothers didn't want to do it.
GROSS: Your father was a comic. Was he like a joke teller at home?
Ms. GARR: Well, I don't remember that too much. It's a very interesting
thing about writing a book about your life. I seem to find a big huge gap
about: Well, who was my father? And, you know, he died when I was 11 and
most of the time when I was alive until he died, I'd--he was ill. So I
couldn't really talk to him too much and I had to be quiet because dad is
GROSS: What was his sickness?
Ms. GARR: Well, he had a--heart trouble. And when I was born he was in--I
don't know if this--he was in the--a USO show in the South Pacific and he fell
out of a Jeep and broke his back. And ever since then, he was not well. And
they brought him back to Long Beach in a cast that was from the top of his
chin to his knees. It was just a horrible--they didn't know way--how to treat
a broken back. But something happened then, I think, that diminished his
life, and he started having heart trouble and he started having all kinds of
things and he was always ill. And he did character acting in movies. He did
a movie with Marilyn Monroe and I remember going to see that when I was a kid.
And he kind of made a living, but he was always ill. So I don't think I had
much of a relationship with my father and, therefore, I don't know who men
are. It's--I think it's something like that. I don't know.
GROSS: Do you think that affected your relationships...
Ms. GARR: Oh, yeah.
GROSS: ...that you didn't know much about your father?
Ms. GARR: You know, I really do, and I never thought about it until I wrote
this book. I always thought, just like everybody else, `Well, there's just
not enough good men out there.' But then I see people with relationships and
able to have them and I think, `Well, no, I think it's something else.' I
think it's your relationship to your parents that make you have relationships
with other people or something like that. But it's been a confusing mess,
believe me, that end of it. But I've--I go on. Even though I'm much older
now, I still think there's hope of finding someone interesting.
GROSS: So you're not part of a couple right now?
Ms. GARR: Not part of a couple, no, except me and my daughter, which is a
GROSS: You've played mothers in a couple of recent roles, like I said,
including in "Ghost World" and the TV series, "Friends." Are there people
you've been able to pattern those mothers on? Because it sounds like your
mother was very different from the mothers that you've played.
Ms. GARR: That's true. You know, most of the mothers that I play in movies,
starting from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"...
GROSS: Right. Suburban mothers?
Ms. GARR: ...and everything--yeah--I patterned them after my sister-in-law.
Because my brother married a high school--his high school sweetheart and my
other brother married--they've both stayed married all this time. But my one
sister-in-law is very `Martha Stewart' and, you know, she's--my brother's a
surgeon and so she's a doctor's wife and she's very--knows about gardening and
centerpieces and stuff like that, something like I completely never grew up
knowing. And I--when I got those parts I would think, `I have no role model
because the role model I have is more like the Texaco man or something.' I
mean, it's just like--so I went--you know, would look at what my sister-in-law
did and copy her.
GROSS: Have you ever had a part where the character had MS and, instead of,
you know, like covering symptoms that you may have had for a performance, you
were able to use them in some way?
Ms. GARR: No, I've never had a part where the character had MS. In the "Law
& Order" that I was going to do--that I'm doing they said, `Do you want to be
in a wheelchair?' And I said, `Well, I can't even run a wheel--I don't know
how do a wheelchair.' And I said--`But if you want to, I'll use a cane.' And
they di--they wanted me to have some non-specific--they never said it was MS.
And then we never got a chance to use the cane, so I just--I never did it. So
I haven't really come up with that yet, to do--to play a part where someone
has MS. But I think they did it on "West Wing." The president was supposed
to have had MS. But, you know, it's a very ambiguous--they haven't really
played it on any show, I don't think.
GROSS: So on "Law & Order," does your character have something?
Ms. GARR: Well, they--maybe, but they never mention what it is because
"Law & Order's" about the show and is about the...
Ms. GARR: ...story.
GROSS: And not about the characters' personal lives.
Ms. GARR: No, I mean, you can walk in there with an arrow through your head
and they go, `Well, we're just not going to mention it, but, you know--OK,
well, all right.' So they never mention what I have, but then again I never
even used the wheelchair, a scooter or a cane.
GROSS: Teri Garr, thank you very, very much for talking with us.
Ms. GARR: Well, Terry Gross, thank you for having me.
GROSS: Teri Garr's new memoir is called "Speedbumps."
Coming up, Kevin Whitehead reviews "Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library
of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax." This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: New edition of Jelly Roll Morton's oral history recording
TERRY GROSS, host:
In 1938, long after he was at the center of early jazz, pianist Jelly Roll
Morton recorded eight hours of reminiscences for Alan Lomax at the Library of
Congress. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it's one of the great oral
histories and a picture window onto early jazz. He reviews a new edition.
(Soundbite of "Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings
by Alan Lomax)
Mr. JELLY ROLL MORTON: Ready?
Mr. ALAN LOMAX: Jelly Roll, tell us about yourself. Tell us where you were
born, who your folks were, and when, how.
Mr. MORTON: Well, I'll tell you, as I can understand, my folks were in the
city of New Orleans long before the Louisiana Purchase and all my folks came
directly from the shores--or not the shores--I mean, from France, across the
world and the other world. And they landed here in a new world years ago. I
So begins Jelly Roll Morton's account of his background, education, travels
and music starting in New Orleans 120 years ago. Now that all Americans value
that city's rich cultural heritage, Morton's epic Library of Congress
recordings are out in a jumbo edition you can really lose yourself in. Nobody
described jazz's early days with an eye and ear and memory as sharp as
Here he is setting up one of the earliest tunes any jazz band played.
(Soundbite of piano)
Mr. MORTON: The composer was Buddy Bolden, the most powerful trumpet player
I've ever heard or ever known. The name of it--was named by some old
honky-tonk people. While he played it, they sang a little theme to it. He
was a favorite of New Orleans at the time.
(Singing) I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say, `Dirty, nasty, stinky butt, take
it away. Dirty, nasty, stinky butt, take it away, oh, let Mr. Bolden, play.'
I thought I heard Bolden say, `Dirty, nasty, stinky butt, take it away. Funky
butt, stinky butt, take it away, and let Mr. Bolden play.'
WHITEHEAD: Morton, feeling neglected in 1938, and tired of seeing the wrong
people get credit for creating jazz in the early 1900s, had approached the
Library of Congress' barely paid folklorist, Alan Lomax. Jelly Roll wanted to
set out the facts, recreating his own early music and that of other early
To judge by outside evidence, Morton was a pretty reliable witness, despite
his reputation as a braggart. You'd have bragged, too, with a life like his.
The great jazz composer and orchestrator was also a whorehouse pianist, pimp,
pool hustler, patent medicine shill, rambler and shady gambler.
(Soundbite of music from recordings)
Mr. MORTON: Hold that tiger!
WHITEHEAD: Alan Lomax's reputation has suffered lately for high-handed
treatment of some African-American colleagues, and I wish he hadn't claimed
sole authorship over the classic book, "Mr. Jelly Roll," the meat of it, in
Morton's own words. But they made good partners in 1938. Lomax was among the
first to see the value of recording oral history and had the sense to sit
Jelly at a piano. Morton had been honing his memories for radio and had a
singular viewpoint on early jazz that makes it sound more like life in the
wild West than a magnolia-scented mansion. As he minds the story, Lomax keeps
asking for sidelights: how people dressed and behaved, their songs and games
and heroes. What we get are king-sized characters and a panoramic view of a
musician's world a century ago.
(Soundbite of music from recordings)
Mr. MORTON: (Singing) Make him a duke or a count, you see, must be a member
of the royalty, Mr. Jelly struck a jazzy thing in the temple by the queen and
king. All at once he struck a harmonic chord. King said, `Make Jelly a lord,
Mr. Jelly a lord.'
WHITEHEAD: Lomax recorded on acetate discs that needed changing every few
minutes, and Morton quickly learned how to wait out the pauses and pick up
where he left off. The soft piano he plays as he talks is a way of staying in
the moment. But Morton often seems eerily aware of some future audience for
this stuff. The showman knew he was giving the performance of his life in
more than one sense. Describing a card game, he doesn't just sing a gambler's
lucky mantra. He acts out the whole scene down to the slap of cards on the
(Soundbite of recordings)
Mr. MORTON: OK, bet. Bet. Roll up. OK, roll up here two more and tray
that. OK, bet.
(Soundbite of piano)
(Singing) I'm going to get one and go to Red Lake.
So you want to sing over that 10-spot? All right, king, come up there. $10
more will catch a king. OK, boy, it's a bet. OK.
(Soundbite of piano)
(Singing) If I can make this one last, if I can make this card last, I'm going
to get one and go to Red Lake.
WHITEHEAD: That must have sounded like voices from the grave, even in 1938.
When I read the book "Mr. Jelly Roll" with my students last spring, we tried
to imagine a perfect edition of all the Morton and Lomax material. The new
box from Rounder comes pretty close. It includes two books, Lomax's and a
good new one about the recordings by John Swett, and a CD-ROM with a complete
transcript of the sessions and other useful stuff. Morton's eight hours of
spoken, played and sung history are presented unexpurgated, even when he's
(Soundbite of music from recordings)
Mr. MORTON: (Singing) Oh, you dirty mother (censored) you old (censored) you
dirty son of a bitch, you bastard, you're everything and your mammy don't wear
WHITEHEAD: But wait, there's more. In 1949, when Lomax was working on a book
version, he sought out other survivors of the golden age. And excerpts from
those interviews are here, too.
(Soundbite of clarinet solo from recordings)
WHITEHEAD: Lomax spoke to 71-year-old Alphonse Picou, credited with
originating a clarinet solo so classic jazz musicians still quote from it. It
was on the tune, "High Society." Picou even played it for him. One last echo
from a lost world, one we'd know a lot less about if not for Jelly Roll Morton
and Alan Lomax.
(Soundbite of clarinet solo from recordings)
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead teaches English and American studies at the University
of Kansas and writes a jazz column for emusic.com. He reviewed "Jelly Roll
Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax" on Rounder
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.