She is usually cast in one of two roles—the harried suburban wife (in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Oh, God!) or the ditsy but nice blonde who may deserve the guy but seldom gets him (in Young Frankenstein). It is in the latter category that Teri Garr is now delighting critics and audiences alike, as Dustin Hoffman's lovably flaky girlfriend Sandy in Tootsie. Film critic Pauline Kael of the New Yorker calls Garr "the funniest neurotic dizzy dame on the screen."

Off-camera, Garr is trying hard to keep both feet on the ground. "This star stuff can be very heady," she allows. "When there gets to be too much 'me-I-mine,' I just say, 'Stop it, Teri Garr' and then go empty the trash or do the dishes."

Given her meteoric rise, it's a wonder Garr's ego hasn't spun off into hyperspace. Moviegoers can see her in Sting II with Jackie Gleason and soon in Francis Ford Coppola's Black Stallion Returns. "In a way I'm lucky this celebrity is hitting me now," says Garr, 33. "If it had happened years ago, I would have put real value on the falseness. I see how crazy actors and actresses can become over things like awards and the star treatment."

But with Academy Award nominations drawing near, she observes, "The simple truth is that people who win awards make a lot more money." While Columbia Pictures is promoting Garr as best supporting actress for her Tootsie portrayal, the film's leading lady, Jessica Lange, may be Garr's biggest rival. "It makes me nervous to think about competition," Garr says. "I'm not upset about Jessica, though. She's so good. Whenever I think I have trouble getting from one point to another in my career, I think of what she had to go through. I mean," says Garr of Lange's role in the 1978 remake of King Kong, "once she had to sit in a gorilla's hand."

Garr fared better in Tootsie, for which she even wrote some of her own scenes. "In a lot of ways, I am Sandy." As for Dustin Hoffman and director Sydney Pollack: "They're two very macho guys and they thought it was going to be easy. But it wasn't. Even doing the makeup gave them some sense of what life is like for women." Garr is currently working on Stan (Love at First Bite) Dragoti's film Mr. Mom. Teri is modeling her working-wife role in the film after her own sister-in-law, Bunny, who's an Orange County decorator with two kids. "There are a lot of things I want to bring to the part," Garr says. "I want to have a career and a family. I'm challenged by that."

Away from the set, Garr lives with Roger Birnbaum, 32-year-old president of Monument Pictures, an independent production company associated with Henry Winkler and Paramount Studios. Birnbaum and Teri met four years ago at the lobby mailboxes of the West Hollywood apartment building where both lived. As their romance heated up, they hired a carpenter to cut a passageway between their adjacent apartments. Says Garr, "It was fine on Roger's side, but on my side the passage came out as a hole right over my bed. I told the carpenter, 'Patch it up.' "

A self-described Valley Girl, Garr and her two brothers grew up in North Hollywood. Her father was a vaudeville hoofer who died when she was 11; her mother then went to work as a studio costumer. After two years at Cal State Northridge, Teri opted for show business, dancing in chorus lines and landing a regular part on the Sonny and Cher television show. She then went to New York, where she won stage roles in several off-Broadway productions. "You take many knocks doing theater in New York," says Garr, who nonetheless plans to move to Manhattan, where she hopes to do a Broadway show after she wraps Mr. Mom next month. "I can't stay away from the theater. A big fantasy life sustained me through all the years in New York," she says. "There's a wonderful line from a play I was in by Sam Shepard called Angel City. It goes, 'They're living in dreams that I am dreaming.' That describes how I felt then. I wanted to be living the dreams I was dreaming." And now she is.

  • Contributors:
  • Paul Corkery.