My image of John between shots was sitting in a director’s chair with a cigarette in a long cigarette holder, drinking a Fresca. He always had a Fresca, but he did it all so elegantly. (Laughs.)
He was a regular guy, but John — or as we’d call him sometimes, the Great Hildini — had a grand side. His idea of a great day was staying in bed, eating caviar and reading a good book. Going out to dinner was an event. I’m proud to say that for eight years, we all could go to dinner and enjoy one another’s company. He was a linguine and clams guy at Nick’s Fish Market. As Higgins, he could make people laugh as well as cry — many times in the same scene. That takes a skill that is not often understood.
The other thing: My wife’s from England. I would go around London in a cab, and they’d ask, “Where’s the Brit, John Hillerman, from on your show?” and I’d tell them he was from Denison, Texas. The Brits are always good at spotting funny British accents in shows, and they all thought John was British.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.