Speed Bumps Can't Slow Teri Garr

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Actress Teri Garr arrives at the EB Medical Research Foundation fundraiser hosted by Courteney Cox Arquette sponsored by Kinerase at the Hammer Museum on July 11, 2005 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
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Long before her fresh-faced appeal landed her major roles in films like "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Mr. Mom" and "Oh, God!" Teri Garr was in the chorus in a dozen movies, including "Viva Las Vegas," one of nine she did, starring Elvis Presley.

"They'd call up, 'There's an audition down in metro, you wanna go?' I mean, I felt like I was in the 40s and, like, was sitting at some switchboard," Garr recalls.

"'I'll be right down. Okay, go down there' and audition and Elvis's boys would be there: the mafia. The Memphis mafia guys and they'd say 'I'll hire her and hire her and Elvis likes her,'" Garr tells Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver.

Asked if Presley ever spoke to her, Garr says, "Yeah he talked to us right away and invited us to a party at his house. And you know we'd go, 'Oh, yeah, a party at Elvis's, yeah.' We'd go up there and it wasn't really a party at Elvis's. It would be like -- you know what do you wanna go up -- they should have just said, 'You wanna go up and watch Elvis watch TV?' 'Cause that's what you'll be doing. And you know, OK, that sounds like fun."

Garr's adventures in films and out are detailed in her new autobiography titled "Speed Bumps."

Garr explains the book's title, saying, "Well, speed bumps, I was thinking, you know you're driving along, everything's OK and then there's a speed bump to go, 'slow down.' Go over it real slowly and you hit the pedal and you keep going and I just thought it was kind of a nice metaphor for life."

But if you think her 1999 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, the crippling disease that has cost her much of the use of her right arm and leg is one of the biggest speed bumps, then you don't know Teri Garr.

"I think there are other things that are much worse than, you know, you get an illness. You can't help it, there's nothing you can do about it so you do the best you can," Garr says.

Doing the best she can has always been part of Garr's credo. Now 60, she grew up in Los Angeles with two older brothers in a show business family.

Her mother, Phyllis, was a former dancer. Her dad, Eddie, a traveling comedian and a gambler…with a drinking problem. He died when Garr was 11.

Garr's brief relationship with her father has had a lasting effect, she says. "Yeah, I think of that now when -- when I think of that -- people and friends say, 'Well, we'd like to set you up with somebody.'

"I say, 'Well, does he gamble and drink and can he ignore me?' 'cause those are the things that attract me and were like my father did. But, yeah, he did all those things. And, but he was still a very nice guy and -- and meant well and everything. But I think it just, it just took him over, and he couldn't handle it," Garr says.

While her mother toiled as a wardrobe mistress on the old NBC lot, Garr studied dance and when she finished high school broke in quickly to those movie musicals.

Despite having fun dancing, Garr decided to pursue acting. "Well, you know, when I was a dancer I would see that dancers were treated like garbage. I mean like, like extras," Garr says.

"You know and sit on a bench. The actors had these big trailers and you know people are, hundreds of people asking, 'Would you like coffee? Would you like me to massage your feet?'

"What? I'm thinking, well, wait a minute. How do I get from here to there because this isn't working for me? So I have to figure out how to get there," Garr says.