Interview with Teri Garr

By: David Adams
Source: Elvis Australia
November 1, 2020

Terri Garr.
Terri Garr.
Teri Garr started out as a background dancer in uncredited roles for youth-oriented films and TV shows like 'Pajama Party', a beach party film, the 'T.A.M.I. Show', 'Shindig!', 'Hullabaloo', 'Movin' with Nancy' (a Nancy Sinatra / Frank Sinatra Special), and nine Elvis Presley movies including Elvis' most profitable film, Viva Las Vegas. Teri tells us below that Steven Spielberg's favorite movie was 'Viva Las Vegas'. And she said to him, 'I was in 'Viva Las Vegas', and he said, 'You were not', Terr, replied, 'Oh, yes, yes I was. It was my first movie'. It was very funny, she said of the exchange. ( Looking online for something to back this up we find nothing, so we would assume then that Viva Las Vegas was just one of his favorite movies).

Q: Tell us the first time that you met Elvis.

A: Actually, I was working in a road company of 'West Side Story' and David Winters was in it and he started teaching dancing and we all went to the dance class and Ann-Margret was in the dance class and then she got the job in 'Viva Las Vegas'. She wanted David Winters to be the choreographer so we were at an audition and all of his girl dancers come down that were in his class. And that's how we got the job. And then we were shooting the first scene. I was so excited to be in a movie but we didn't shoot at the studio. I was so disappointed we shot in a gym in Culver City. I was working out on the parallel bars and Elvis came up to me and said, 'So, you live around here? Huh'. So Elvis Presley talked to me and it was very nice and just and normal, but he was this icon. But I was trying to be cool about it because I really felt that I had to have that attitude or I would just sink under the floor. So I would say, 'So, it's Elvis Presley. He's more talented than me? Ha, I don't think so'. I mean, that was how I would think and stuff. But, he was very nice about that and once you got to know him, he was kind of, 'Yeah, that's right, I am. We are all the same'. So that was nice. But the great thing was we danced on all these different numbers that were in 'Viva Las Vegas' and then at that time, Elvis was making about three movies a year or whatever the heck he was making. And each time, they would have dancers in it, they would call us up and Elvis would send his Memphis Mafia guys to pick us up and they would come and watch the girls audition and they would tell the ones that he wanted picked. Elvis would like her, Elvis picked her before etc. So we all got hired again. I mean, not that we didn't deserve to get hired. We were also very good but it was a little bit of a little boost in the right direction. So, which was very nice. And he was comfortable and he was loyal to his friends. Obviously, he was loyal to the guys that he brought from Memphis and so it was very nice to be in his inner circle.

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Teri Garr, Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley in 'Viva Las Vegas'.
Teri Garr, Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley in 'Viva Las Vegas'.

Q: Tell us about some of the hijinks on the set.

A: Oh, the hijinks. I don't remember hijinks too much. Let's see, I don't know if you remember this girl named Carrie Foster. She was my roommate. Elvis kinda liked her so he invited us to a party. He said, 'We're having a party at my house'. So we're all taken to this address somewhere in Bel Air. We went up to his house and I think, 'This isn't a party. This is Elvis and the guys and they're watching TV, out playing pool or something. He just wants to have people around him. But, you know, there's no chips and dips, it's no party'.

But we went up there just to check it out and I was very flattered to be part of his entourage. But he was just trying to make friends out here. I mean, here was this guy that was from Memphis, he was a truck driver. He was just an ordinary guy. And then all of a sudden he gets this all this money and all this fame and it blows your mind. I mean, I'm sure it just blew his mind all the time. He always loved buying Cadillacs for all of his friends. He couldn't handle it and I totally understand it. It takes you right out of reality. And I think that's where he was. And then not only was he out of reality but he was in Hollywood making movies.

Q: Did Elvis ever talk to you about his acting or roles he would like to do?

A: No, never, no. You know I think he really wanted to be part of the group. I remember sometimes the dancers, I think this was a movie called 'Kissin Cousins'. They were all brilliant movies. All of them. So, at lunch we'd come back and I remember this guy, Alex Clasher would be in the middle and all the dancers would get around in a circle and it's a thing that dancers do. And it was one of those hey, ho, hey, and then someone gets in the middle and does a tap dance and then another person comes out and they go. And Elvis is watching us do this and he wants to be involved. So he comes in and he gets in the middle of the circle and he takes a brick and he breaks it half like you do karate. I mean, I was into that. I said, 'All right, you could do it with us.

Q: He just wanted to be a part of the camaraderie.

A: Yeah, and it's interesting on a movie set in those days and even now, but there aren't any dancers on movie sets. Dancers are treated like the lowest form of vegetable life. And when you get hired to be a dancer in a movie, it's like, 'Go sit on those bench's back there and don't you move and we'll let you know when you have a break'. And you're really treated like atmosphere. In fact, at the time, you were in the extra's guild. And here we were, you have to study at least ten years to even get a job cause you have to come to an audition and dance and do fouete turns and all this. You were a skilled person. And then you get the job and you're treated like garbage. You know, just bad. So, I must say Elvis was in touch with that immediately and he wanted to be with us. I mean, he would be like our friend. It was interesting. Even while he liked the girls, he liked us for us.

And I remember also I did a movie called 'Roustabout', another fabulous movie, and Barbara Stanwyck was in it so I was just thrilled to be there. But so there is a carnival, where he's a carnival barker and so we're up there dancing our, we wear costumes that are made out of watermelons. And I am, well, I never really fit into the chorus girl thing. I was always a little bit off, a little bit wrong, thank god. Anyway, they're starting to roll this thing right over, okay, action, and we're rolling. And this director, his name was John Rich, would go, 'Oh, cut, cut, cut. Who is that dumb broad on the left? Honey, get it together, okay? Roll, action'. We'd start again and he said, 'No, honey, god that stupid bitch'. And he was just so mean to me and he was about to fire me and Elvis said, 'Excuse me, sir, but this broad ...'. He stood up and defended me.

I was gonna tell this one about during the time, this is about me. You know more about me. But during the time I was doing dancing in all these movies, I was also trying to be an actress. All the time I was trying to be an actress and I was starting to do a little bit of commercials. So I'd done a few commercials and they would play on TV and Elvis recognized me, I know because Jimmy Kingsley told me. Elvis said, 'That's our Teri Garr'. He saw me on some commercial and says 'our Teri Garr'. I was so thrilled that Elvis remembered me. I don't know. That's the only big story. And another thing I remember is one time when he invited us all, a bunch of dancers, to come up to Vegas and see him. And we all went up to Vegas and saw his show. It was so thrilling. And we were telling someone on the phone, I'm going to Vegas this weekend to see Elvis. He invited us up. Yeah, sure. Elvis inviting you up. No, he did. Anyway, that was fun, wasn't it? I remember it so well.

Q: Did Elvis ever give you any pearls of wisdom that stuck with you?

A: You know, I remember that thing about him saying 'I don't know anything about what's going on here, so I don't try to tell anybody what to do. And I would do it if it was in a recording studio or even if we were building an engine in a truck or something'. I don't remember exactly. He said and respected that. He respected what people did and I remember that so well that he was so sweet. And then the rest of the stuff about him doing was this big icon and people stepping back when he came in the room. People put that on him much more than I think was really him. I think it was Elvis Presley and they created this thing that really didn't exist. You know he was just a regular person. But people have a tendency to do that with fame.

Q: Your favorite movie was 'Viva Las Vegas', is that right?

A: No, no that first movie he ever did. You know, I think the first one, not the one that I was in.

No, the one, 'Love Me Tender'?

Q: 'Love Me Tender' was the first.

A : I think he was on the edge there and did some acting that was quite great. The other movies, I'm afraid to say, they were just ground out. And I mean they were just exploiting him to let's make money. Another Presley movie, another Presley movie. And I don't think he or the Colonel ever thought about where that was gonna lead. Because it leads to, it's not good to do a bunch of bad movies in a row. At the time it's good. You know, it's like getting drunk. For the moment, it's good and then the next day it's not so good. So, for the moment, it was good to do three movies a year and all that stuff but then it sort of dissipated him.

But he was still the great talent and I think what Joe said is that if he were alive today, he'd still be performing cause I think that's where his spark was. You know, his interaction with people and with the audience. And particularly, it's just a strange thing to say, but with the common people. I mean, he really knew how to do that. And, you know, well, it's a brilliant thing that he did, the first white man to take black soul music and do it and really do it and feel it and dance it. And no one else even dared to do that and he did it. You know, we all went around scratching our heads, I mean, 'What has this guy got? What is he doing?' Well, he's doing the black music that's so fabulous but he fit, you know, he was the first one to figure out how to do that.

I would have liked to see Elvis in high school. He must have been the coolest guy, all dressed cool and thinking that black music was great. He was way ahead of his time so, I don't know. I think because he had this, he was in touch with the common people, I hate to use that term, common, but he was in touch with the common denominator. You know, it made him special. I mean, then he zoomed to the top and he kept that with him.

Q: Don't you think Elvis had charisma?

A: Yeah. Oh, definitely. But it, you know, his stuff about god is not my stuff. He was very religious, right? He had that going. I don't know if I believe it or not. I believe he was an incredibly talented, somewhere in his genes, his mother or his father, whoever, he had something that was amazing and he could tap into it. And then this Colonel Parker guy came along and took it the rest of the way, I guess.

But, you know, I love the fact that he brought all these guys with him. Always with the Memphis Mafia. These guys were always around him. They'd get jobs in the movies, they'd work as actors, they'd work as extras, they'd work as stuntmen. They were his pals and there really, to be honest, wasn't that much for them to do. But he wanted them there because they were his pals and I love him for that. And I'd say to my friend Jimmy, 'What have you got there?' He'd said, 'This is Elvis' kit'. 'What's in Elvis' kit?' 'Well, you've got Oculene eye drops, we got some kind of Vaseline'. There was a little bunch of things that he wanted to have around him but it really wasn't anything that would take seven guys to take care of it. But just he wanted his friends around. I understand that. I don't mind that. I do too. Especially the more lonely you get, the more outward stardom, I mean, it must have been scary for him, this guy from Tupelo, Mississippi, all of a sudden having icons and Frank Sinatra and kings and queens bowing down to him.

Q: I'm sure he was very happy with your success, as well.

A: Oh, I hope wherever he is now, Elvis, I'm growing old, but that would be so sweet. You know, he worked in Mobile, Alabama where he was touring on the road when I was doing 'Close Encounters'. He was staying in the same hotel I was in and I went to go up to the top floor and I would see all the guys around, I'd wanted to say 'Hi, tell Elvis I'm here' but I never did. But that's the way it goes, you know. A lot of the movie crew went to see him. Of course, they loved him and everything. But I just sort of, you know, lost touch.

Q: When was the last time you saw him?

A: Well, it would have been then. It would have been in Mobile when I was doing 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', as I told this before, and Steven Spielberg was directing it and one day he was talking about his favorite movies. His favorite movie was 'Viva Las Vegas'. And I was in 'Viva Las Vegas'. He said, 'You were not'. I said, 'Oh, yes, yes I was. It was my first movie'. It was very funny.

Q: What made you shy up?

A: Oh, here it is like, he was Elvis Presley. What do you think? Who wouldn't I be shy? I should have just gone there though. I don't know. So the same thing happened to a friend of mine and I was in Paris and he tried to reach me and I said, 'I haven't got time'. And then he dies and, oh, god. That's the way I feel.

Q: What does he really mean to you in your heart?

A: I have great respect for him and I have to say that this was the very first job I ever, well, I worked in 'West Side Story' but then working in a movie, it was working in 'Viva Las Vegas'. I actually, I got my agent. I know that sounds like a lie but I did because I was too young to do it. And so Elvis Presley was the first person I worked within a movie. It really was a big influence on me. Maybe it was me that made it up, but I thought, he's a person, I'm a person. If he can do it, I can do it. And he made you feel like that, too. You know, he made you be an equal. And, of course, it wasn't true, but as I said I lived in a big fantasy world and still do, but he made you feel like you were the same. And I think that really was an incredible catalyst for me. I mean, you're working with Elvis Presley and he thinks that you guys are alike so maybe if he can do it, you can do it. So then something like that, it's a subliminal subconscious incredible influence he had on me.

Q: He put you at ease, didn't he?

A: Yes, he did. He put everyone at ease. I mean, well, that was his mission.

That's what he tried to do, God bless him. I don't know why. because I worked with a lot of stars even, you know, they don't care. Just they're mean. But he did.

Q: Did you know he loved 'Young Frankenstein'? A couple of guys said that.

A: Did he know it was me? I guess he did.

Q: I'm sure he did.

A: Oh. That's so great. He must have known it was me. Oh, well. I mean, yeah. It is so amazing that you know, I did about nine movies, I can't even name them, but the fact that that's on my resume, I can't go anyplace without everyone asking me about Elvis. I mean, I've been on Johnny Carson and Letterman and every single interview I've ever done, So, you worked with Elvis. I'm ready to and it feels like I should have. And look, leave me alone with Elvis. I'm a person, too. But I did and I told the stories about Elvis a million times. I told the story about going to his house and staying there until four in the morning, oh, yeah, he loved to party and, you know, but it wasn't even partying. It was just let's just stay up all night and be crazy. And when I was living at my mother's and my mother was waiting for me. It happened to be on Palm Sunday and when I get home, my mother is waiting for me on the couch, sitting there and I'm like, 'Oh, mom, you're not gonna believe this. I was at a party at Elvis Presley's house and before you know it, I mean, we didn't look at our watches and it just got later and later. And it just got so late'. My mother's like this. 'Jesus Christ is dying on the cross and you are at Elvis Presley's'. It was a good line and I thought, it's just, I almost wanna laugh. So, it was, it's true, I know it sounds crazy when Jesus is dying, but I was with Elvis. It's cool! I couldn't help myself.

Q: What was your favorite time on the 'Young Frankenstein' set?

A: Oh, they're all very funny. Mel Brooks was very funny. And he insists that everyone laughs all the time so I don't know. Just there's a lot of funny things. I'm so glad Elvis liked that movie.

Q: Is there something about Elvis that you'd like to tell the fans?

A: I don't know much about him, you don't know. I can only speculate what- how everyone else has speculated. That he came to Hollywood and he wanted there to be a party all the time and, of course, there isn't. It's just a bunch of work and I think, you know, ultimately, that did him in. He just wanted it to be fun all the time. Of course, it's not only is it not fun, it's the opposite of fun. So, there are so many theories about what happened to Elvis and what he was like and all this stuff. I think they tried to make him into a product.

Q: Well, you're always fun.

A: Thank you very much.

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Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.

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