A child of a mixed marriage during an era where such marriages were frowned upon (and even illegal in certain areas of the United States), Hardin learned to appreciate art at an early age from her Caucasian mother, a talented painter who worked in watercolors.
As a grade school student, Hardin immersed herself in both art and drama, landing her first role at age six as a singer in a school Christmas pageant in which she sang Santa Claus Is Coming To Town. Chosen because hers was the only voice that could project to the rear of the auditorium, she was, in her own words, "bitten by the acting bug" as a result. Hardin's next role came in the sixth grade when she was cast as the Cowardly Lion in a school production of The Wizard of Oz. The opportunity to see master puppeteer Shari Lewis perform inspired Hardin to create her own version of Lewis' iconic Lamb Chop.
It would be Hardin's skill as a puppeteer that opened doors for her in Hollywood since she was concerned about her looks, fearing "she looked too weird to be used." Her first Hollywood job came during her college years in which she built the stillsuits for the film version of Dune and acted as a stunt double for Shawn Young. A job on the Columbia Pictures blockbuster Ghostbusters followed in which she played both of the demon dogs at the "Temple of Zuul" and served as a puppeteer for both the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and the ghost librarian seen at the opening of the film.
Hardin was contacted by the Disney Studios in 1987 during her stint with Universal Studios Hollywood as a sculptor creating "walk-around" character costumes. After eight interviews, she was hired and given the assignment of helping design the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and DragonsLair attractions at Paris Disneyland. Her passion did not go unnoticed and she was given the opportunity to design the entire DragonsLair attraction with the blessing of her supervisor, Tony Baxter.
Despite her success, Hardin still dreamed of a job with Disney's sculpting team. Her audition consisted of creating both an animation maquette and full-sized head of Song of the South's Br'er Fox. She got the position and was assigned the same cubicle her personal hero Blane Gibson worked at years prior. She even had the opportunity to review Gibson's own documentation.
Visitors to Paris Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland, and Walt Disney World can see Hardin's work both in Disneyland's Splash Mountain (her sculpture is that of Br'er Rabbit lounging on a boat) as well as in Muppet*Vision 3D at Disney's California Adventure.
Terri Hardin still lives in Southern California with her husband, Lindsey Jackson, stepson, Ian, and her miniature English bulldog, Tillie.
- "Terri Hardin".