John Hillerman Biography


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Birth Name: John Hillerman
Born: 12/20/1932
Birth Place: Dennison, Texas, USA


A stage-trained veteran of numerous TV-movies and specials (sans accent), Hillerman was also a busy character player in Hollywood features throughout the 70s, notably in four films by writer-director Peter Bogdanovich: "The Last Picture Show" (1971); "What's Up, Doc?" (1972); "Paper Moon" (1973) as twins, a sheriff and a bootlegger; and "At Long Last Love" (1975) as Burt Reynolds' smooth valet. In films, Hillerman proved most convincing as small-time authority figures tinged with corruption. His other significant credits from that halcyon era include Clint Eastwood's "High Plains Drifter" (1973) as the bootmaker; Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" (1974) as Howard Johnson; Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" (1974) as Yelburton, a shady city official; and Stanley Donen's "Lucky Lady" (1975) as a feisty hood.

The young Hillerman majored in journalism at the University of Texas and did a stint in the Air Force (1953-57)--where he achieved the rank of sergeant--before moving from Texas to NYC to pursue a career in the theater. Hillerman lost his thick Southern drawl with a year of intensive speech training the American Theatre Wing (1958-59). He went on to an active 15-year stage career, eleven largely in New York and four in the Theater Club in Washington D.C. Hillerman racked up over a 100 leading roles on and off-Broadway in such plays as "Our Town", "Death of a Salesman", "The Lion in Winter", "The Little Foxes" and "The Seven Year Itch". One early stage role was playing a spear-carrier in a production of "Othello" where he met Bogdanovich. Years later, the young writer-director would cast Hillerman in the landmark drama "The Last Picture Show", his film acting debut.

Hollywood proved a hospitable home for the actor. Hillerman segued between features and TV through the mid-70s before concentrating on the small screen where he made more than one hundred appearances. He struck paydirt as Jonathan Higgins, the repressed and paternalistic foil to the boyishly laid-back Tom Selleck. The role brought Hillerman wealth, international fame, a 1986/87 Emmy award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series and a Golden Globe that same year.