Friday, January 21, 2022

Top TV Moments: Teri Garr


I’m in the midst of writing an article on the TV series McCloud for a magazine, and doing so has reacquainted me with the happiness I always felt whenever I see Teri Garr, who appears in several episodes as Sgt. Phyllis Norton.


Like Betty White, whose passing we just acknowledged here, she was someone that audiences always seemed to like, not just in the roles she played but for the person she is. Unlike Betty, however, she never found a classic TV role that perfectly matched her quirky persona. Yes, casting her as Phoebe’s mother on Friends was inspired, but that happened after the Comfort TV era.


You had to buy a ticket to the movies to see Teri Garr at her best ­­– Young Frankenstein, Mr. Mom, One From the Heart and Tootsie. But if like me you’d rather stay home and watch TV, here are some of the shows she’s visited over the years.


Mr. Novak (1964)

Teri Garr made her TV debut as high school student Lisa Calvert in “How Does Your Garden Grow?” The episode is an affectionate character study of a socially awkward teacher (Barbara Barrie), but you’ll have no trouble finding Garr in the episode’s first classroom scene, as she looks the same here as she looked 30 years later.


Shindig (1964)

Most fans know that Garr started her career as a dancer, but you’ll have to look closely to spot her in this series shimmying behind Jackie Wilson, The Righteous Brothers and Johnny Rivers. She also performed in several Elvis Presley musicals, including Viva Las Vegas and Roustabout.


Star Trek (1968)

“Assignment: Earth,” the final episode of Trek’s second season, was a backdoor pilot for a spinoff series about a time-traveler and his attractive female companion (Hmmm…where have I heard that concept before?). Fans aren’t crazy about it as it reduces Kirk and Spock to background characters, while Gene Roddenberry hoped audiences would embrace the dashing Gary Seven (Robert Lansing) and his secretary Roberta (Teri Garr) enough to follow them into further adventures. One can only imagine how Garr’s career might have been different if the series had materialized.



The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1972)

Garr was the only female member of the ensemble featured in this variety series’ music and comedy skits. And according to Cher in her episode DVD commentaries, the boys put her through a lot of affectionate ribbing. You may remember her best as Olivia, in the pink dress and with curlers in her hair, from the “At the Launderette” sketches with Cher as Laverne.


The Girl With Something Extra (1973)

This was Teri Garr’s first recurring TV role, though that amounted to just four appearances in 22 episodes. Sally Field and John Davidson played young married couple John and Sally Burton. Sally’s ESP was the something extra that often complicated their lives. Garr played Amber, girlfriend to John’s brother Jerry (Jack Sheldon).


M*A*S*H (1973)

In “The Sniper” Garr overcomes some cringe-worthy dialogue (“Does every new nurse fall in love with you here?”) as Hawkeye’s latest conquest. 



The Bob Newhart Show (1973)

Garr has a short scene at the beginning of “Emily In for Carol” as a prospective temp replacement for Carol at the reception desk. Producers must have liked her as she returned later that season in the same role in “Confessions of an Orthodontist.” This time she nails a more substantive scene opposite Newhart, in the type of ditzy role she played most frequently throughout her career. 



Late Night With David Letterman (1982)

Both Johnny Carson and David Letterman knew they’d get a fun conversation out of Teri, hence her more than 70 combined appearances on their shows. But her chemistry with Letterman was especially delightful. 


He was so clearly smitten with her, and yet, like an 8 year-old with a crush on the girl that sits in front of him in class, he couldn’t stop himself from making fun of her at every opportunity. Hard to tell whether she felt the same about him, but one night she let Dave talk her into taking a shower on national television, so there had to be some affection there. 



Fresno (1986)

This was a five-episode miniseries that parodied the popular prime time soaps then dominating the Nielsen ratings – Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest. Two wealthy families – the Kensingtons and the Canes – battle over an empire built on raisins. All the staples were there – mysterious deaths, secrets, romance, betrayal, catfights, and illegitimate heirs demanding a share of the fortune. 



Some of the jokes hit – the repeated tossing of drinks in faces after an argument, Gregory Harrison as “Torch,” who appears shirtless in every scene regardless of the circumstances. But it’s hard to send up a genre that was already over the top in its histrionics. A game cast led by Carol Burnett, Dabney Coleman, Teri Garr and Valerie Mahaffey almost pulls it off, but someone should have told Charles Grodin that under-playing material this silly is the way to make it funny. Garr played Talon Kensington, Grodin’s trophy wife who was always on the lookout for her next sexual conquest. 



Fruit of the Loom Commercials

For those who never stopped fantasizing about “a roll in ze hay” with Inga from Young Frankenstein, Teri Garr’s Fruit of the Loom commercials were probably as exciting as early Cinemax. They played exceptionally well to her combination of sexy and approachable. 




  1. Interested in your McCloud article. For which magazine?

    1. Cowboys & Indians ( Don't have an issue date yet.