Oliver Stone's JFK
Through the Looking Glass:
Jean Hill initially denied seeing anyone shoot at President Kennedy. Later her story would undergo a change.
Jean Hill was one of the closest witnesses to the President's limousine at the time of the assassination. Unfortunately, she did not make the most reliable witness, changing her story dramatically over the years. Her claim of being intimidated by a sinister Secret Service agent became a major point in JFK, despite the fact that the "agent" -- actually reporter Jim Featherston -- could have set the record straight. Hill refers to him as "Featherstone" in her Warren Commission deposition.
Jean Hill (left) with the actress who portrayed
her in JFK, Ellen McElduff
From JFK: The Last Dissenting Witness, by Bill Sloan with Jean Hill:
In August 1990, a call came from Jim Marrs that was to open up a whole new world to Jean Hill. Marrs told her that Academy Award-winning director Oliver Stone was in Dallas and wanted to talk with her. At the time, Jean was still recuperating from injuries sustained when she had fallen during a teacher training activity, in which she was pretending to be a deer, the previous spring, breaking her shoulder and knee and spraining her ankle.
Despite her aches and pains and the casts she was still wear- ing, Jean agreed to meet with Stone and producers Clayton Townsend and Alex Ho at Dallas's Stoneleigh Hotel. "Oliver asked me what I thought about doing a movie about JFK," Jean recalls. "I told him I thought it was a wonderful idea if someone could bring out the truth. He had just bought Crossfire from Jim Marrs, and I asked him how in-depth he planned to go, but all he would say at the time was that he hadn't finished his research yet."
Stone also asked Jean to tell him her story. "He was making notes so furiously," she says, "that it was almost as if I was watching his brain work. He was completely focused on what I was saying, hanging on every word. I was truly impressed with him. I really had the feeling that I was in the presence of " greatness.
Her reaction, it should be noted, was not that of a starstruck movie fan either. Jean was not an avid moviegoer and actually didn't know who Oliver Stone was at the time of Marrs's call. Her daughter, Jeanne, had filled her in with a list of Stone's accomplishments and also reminded her to get his autograph for a collection of memorabilia that Jean was saving for her grandchildren.
"I'd heard from someone that Oliver Stone didn't give autographs," Jean says, "but I knew I had to get that autograph, and I was looking around for a piece of paper when Oliver deftly pulled one out of his own notebook and wrote, 'Jean, you're cute. Oliver Stone.'"
Jean was so appreciative that she invited Stone to her house for dinner. It was an invitation that she never really expected him to accept -- more of a gesture of friendship than anything else -- but to her surprise, Stone took it very seriously, as he would later demonstrate.
She heard nothing further for several months, but then received an urgent call one day from Clayton Townsend, asking if Jean would permit the production company to photograph her house for consideration as a possible movie location site.
"Sure, if it's for Oliver," Jean said.
Townsend told her that Jeff Flach, head of Camelot Productions, would be in contact with her, and no more than 15 minutes later, Flach called and made an appointment for 4:00 PM the next day. Slightly rattled by the speed with which things were moving all of a sudden, Jean agreed to the meeting without remembering that she had to attend a teacher training session at school at exactly the same time. So she was forced to postpone the appointment for 24 hours, then was embarrassed to arrive home 30 minutes late and find Flach waiting for her.
Nervously and apologetically, she invited him in, and after a long talk, he began photographing the interior of the house, taking 20 or 30 shots in every room, and suddenly Jean grew even more nervous.
"You're not going to do the bedroom and bathroom, are you?" she asked uneasily as he started down the hall. "Oh, yes," he said, "I'm going to take pictures of everything."
Jean dashed ahead of Flach to the bedroom, where she had dumped piles of dirty clothes and other unsightly odds and ends the night before while rushing to straighten up her messy house. She grabbed them up in a panic and crammed them into the only hiding place she could think of -- the bathroom shower stall.
"Fortunately, he didn't open the shower door," she says, "or all those dirty clothes would have fallen out right on top of him."
Flach also photographed the backyard, which was over- grown with high grass and weeds at the time. As he did, Jean kept assuring him: "It looks much better when it's mowed; it's really not always such a jungle."
When it was eventually decided not to use Jean's house in the movie, after all, Jean didn't know whether to be glad or disappointed. There was another long time lapse after the photo session, but Flach did stay in touch with her, and on a Monday in December, just before school dismissed for winter break, he called to say that Stone would be in town that Wednesday and could accept the invitation she had given him for dinner four months earlier.
Once again, Jean found herself thrown into a state of near hysteria as she wondered how she could possibly get ready to entertain a Hollywood movie mogul in less than 48 hours. These moviemakers were a lot like the army, she thought. Hurry up, wait, then hurry up again.
To complicate matters, Jean was planning to leave that Friday for Chicago to spend the holidays with Jeanne and her family, who had recently moved there from Dallas, and none of the preparations for her trip were made. On top of that, she had scarcely started her Christmas shopping, and didn't even have the obligatory holiday party ready for her kids at school on Friday. For the moment, though, all other considerations had to be pushed out of the way and into the background in much the same way that Jean had piled her dirty laundry in the shower stall.
All she could think of was, What do you feed a bunch of movie big shots? Do Oscar-winners eat real food like ordinary mortals, or do they have caviar and champagne for every meal?
Jean knew she didn't know how to cook Hollywood-style, and she had no intention of trying. She would cook her own kind of down-home meal, and if they didn't like it . . . well, they just didn't have to eat it.
She rushed out to the grocery store on Monday night immediately after Jeff's call, then spent Tuesday evening washing and polishing the crystal and dusting off the linens, and faced the monumental task of getting everything ready and in place on Wednesday. Jean had never been more grateful for the help of her friends and co-workers in this emergency. Her fellow teachers agreed to take over her classes at noon so she could leave early to prepare the meal-roast beef, potatoes and gravy, candied yams, green bcan casserole, salad, hot rolls and double-fudge cake for dessert.
"I've never cooked and slung food so fast in my life," says Jean.
That afternoon, Jean's son, Billy, sent her a gorgeous centerpiece for the dining room table and banks of poinsettias to decorate the house. He also asked what she was serving to drink.
"Iced tea, I guess," she answered.
"Mother, you need to serve wine," Billy said.
"Son, I don't even know how to open it," she responded.
Jean hurriedly placed the centerpiece on the table, which it almost covered, and not knowing what else to do with them, deposited the poinsettias outside on the front porch. Fortunately, two teacher friends, Billie Cox and Vee Williams, arrived about this time to assist with the last-minute preparations.
"Do you want them to think you're having a funeral?" Billie asked when she saw the poinsettias on the porch, and then proceeded to arrange them attractively throughout the house. Meanwhile, several bottles of wine were dispatched by Billy, along with Jean's teenaged grandson, Andrew, who supposedly knew how to open and serve it.
In the midst of this frantic scene, Flach called and said the guests needed to come early because they had another meeting after dinner. A short time later, however, Jean breathed a sigh of relief when he called back and said they would be late, instead. Finally, about 7:30, Stone and his party arrived.
"Oliver swirled through the front door wearing a black jacket with a 'red baron' scarf flung over his shoulder," Jean recalls. When Jean asked if she could take his jacket, Stone replied brusquely: "You may not -- and I'm not eating a bite until you get me some pictures of you in 1963."
Jean brought out her disorganized box of pictures, and Stone proceeded to go through them until he found the pictures he wanted.
"Well," Jean said, taking charge, "I guess we can all have a glass of wine and admire the centerpiece, or we can move it, and eat dinner."
As the centerpiece was moved from the table, Stone said, "Oh, let's see. Where do I want to sit?"
"You're the director in Hollywood, Oliver," Jean told him crisply, "but I'm the director here." As she pointed to a chair, he grinned and sat down.
Despite all the problems and palpitations, it was a memorable meal, one worth all the effort that went into it, and one that Stone would rave about for months to come.
In Chicago, Jean was in much demand to tell every last detail of her evening with Oliver Stone. When she returned home on January 2, a huge bouquet of flowers came to her door. The card read: "Wishing you a happy new year. Looking forward to working with you. Thank you for all you have done so far. Oliver Stone, Alex Ho, Clayton Townsend and Co."
In February, Jeff Flach called to invite Jean to meet Kevin Costner, who was to star in JFK as New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, and Ellen McElduff, who was to play Jean in the movie. Eagerly, she agreed to meet Stone and the actors on the grassy knoll in Dealey Plaza.
Earlier in the month, however, on the eve of her 60th birthday, Jean had suffered what was diagnosed as a mild stroke at school. And as the Dealey Plaza meeting began, both Stone and Flach seemed deeply concerned over the state of her health.
"The minute they saw me, Oliver and Jeff both started asking if I was feeling all right," she says.
When Oliver said, "I'd like you to meet Kevin Costner," Jean glanced around in confusion. As she recalls the moment:
"I was looking straight at him, but I kept asking, 'Where?' Finally, he took off his sunglasses and said, 'Hi, Jean. I'm Kevin Costner.' I felt like such a dunce."
"I'm glad to meet you," Jean responded. "I'm glad you're going to play Jim Garrison."
"So am I," Costner said. "You know, I was in New Orleans a few days ago, talking to Jim, and he told me he thought you were the 'one constant factor' in this whole assassination story. I've been wanting to meet you ever since."
Jean could hardly believe her ears. She had never laid eyes on Jim Garrison, but here was one of the most famous actors in the world relaying a compliment to her from him, It seemed unbelievable.
As she basked in the thrill of the moment, she heard herself inviting Costner to come to her school to speak to the students.
"I'd like that," Costner said. "I'll let you know if I can make it."
Jean also met another assassination witness she had never met before that day. She was Beverly Oliver, known as "the babushka lady" for the scarf she had worn around her head on the day of the assassination. A friend of Jack Ruby, who she claimed had once introduced her to "Lee Oswald of the CIA," Ms. Oliver had filmed the entire assassination, only to have her film confiscated and never returned by federal agents who then claimed to have "lost" her. Since her identity had been established only recently by independent assassination investigators, she had never had a chance to testify before the Warren Commission or any other official body. And despite her fascinating story, Jean doubted that it would have done any good if she had.
During the day, Jean and Ellen McElduff also went over the script to make sure the scene portraying Jean's interrogation by Secret Service agents shortly after the assassination was correct. Stone also asked that Ellen read through the script with Jean present, so that she could catch any inaccuracies.
Jean later accompanied Stone and the actors to the Criminal Courts Building, where she had been interrogated so long and abusively on November 22, 1963. On the elevator, Stone jestingly showed Jean a brass calling card case given to him by Beverly Oliver.
"Look here what Beverly Oliver gave me," Stone said teasingly. "What have you done for me, Jean?"
"Listen, Oliver, I fed you the best meal of your life," Jean replied in the same tone. "The question is, what have you done for me?"
Jean recalls how Oliver burst out laughing and Flach whispered to her, "Oliver likes you, Jean. Hardly anyone talks back to him."
"I like him too," Jean replied.
At the Criminal Courts Building, there was no air conditioning, and it was stiflingly hot, but Oliver refused to remove his black jacket, even while he was sitting on a window ledge with the sun beaming directly in on him. Seemingly oblivious to the unpleasant working conditions, he pressed Jean for information.
"Tell me what went on, Jean," he urged. "Does it look the same as it did then? Tell me everything you remember."
At that point, Stone was distracted by something in the corridor outside the room. "Close that door," he instructed someone curtly. "I want us to be alone. I don't want anyone else in here." Then he looked back at Jean and said, "Jean, just start talking."
She started retelling the story, recounting every detail she could remember. As she talked, Jean notes, "Oliver was writing furiously, and he was dripping with sweat. He kept saying, 'I like that; I like that, Jean. I knew we needed the flair you could give it in your own style.'"
In April, Stone staged the long and tedious -- and to Jean often traumatic -- re-enactment of the assassination scene in downtown Dallas. She was told to report to the set on a Saturday, arrived there at 9:30 in the morning and remained all day. It was her first experience with the intensity of Stone as a director and the exhaustive schedule through which he put those under his direction.
That day, Jean not only learned about the business of moviemaking but she also came to realize that she was a something of a celebrity in her own right. "I was surprised at how many movie people wanted to meet me," she says. "It made me feel really good when someone would yell, 'Get the real Jean Hill in here.'"
As a technical advisor to the film, Jean could visit the production offices at the Stoneleigh Hotel or the movie set whenever she wished. Often, she took cookies and cakes to the actors and production staff just to help them feel more at home in Dallas. (She was overwhelmed by their gratitude and by the way they devoured her treats. "I don't think any of those Hollywood types ever gets any home cooking," she says.) Despite this access, however, she still didn't feel really secure about her newfound status.
One afternoon in April, after a hard day at school, Jean decided to take some teacher friends to the Dealey Plaza set to watch the filming of a scene involving three "tramps" who were briefly detained by authorities after the assassination, then allowed to vanish without a trace, and to meet Kevin Costner.
"What if they don't let us in?" Jean wondered aloud. "What if they say, 'Who's this Jean Hill? We never heard of her.'"
Jean soon found that her fears were groundless. She approached the security guard beside the school book depository and said, "I'm Jean Hill, and I need to get on the set."
The guard just stepped aside and let her through.
"Is Kevin Costner here?" Jean asked another guard carrying a walkie-talkie. "I'm Jean Hill, and I'd like to see him."
"So would everybody else," the guard said. "See that black screen over there? He's behind it."
Moving freely past the security guard and Costner's own bodyguard, Jean unceremoniously plopped herself down onto the curb beside Costner and proceeded to strike up a brisk conversation with the actor and his wife, Cindy.
Jean told Costner she wanted him to meet her friends, and each time she would stand up to call them, he would politely stand up too. As a result, almost everyone in the vicinity soon knew he was behind the screen, and he was swamped by autograph seekers and people trying to take his picture. Somehow, in the midst of this confusion, Jean managed to make the introductions, and Costner graciously posed with her for a picture for the school newspaper.
At school, Jean was the center of attention as she told the story to her fellow teachers. She recounted how one of her friends, Billie Cox, had gone to her school the next day and put a note on the faculty sign-in sheet that said proudly: "Come to Room ___ if you want to shake the hand that shook Kevin Costner's hand."
Not only had Jean gained "celebrity status" on the movie set, she was becoming a celebrity at school too. And it was spilling over onto her friends.
Outside a run-down apartment house in East Dallas, a crowd of Dallasites had gathered to watch the filming of yet another scene for JFK. Oliver Stone was inside the house, which was almost totally shrouded with black tarps. None of the onlookers could see anything of what was going on inside, but they waited anyway, some patiently, some not so patiently. The scene, which demanded absolute silence, was being held up by some birds that were chirping persistently in the trees nearby.
"Kill the birds," someone shouted irritably, and crew members armed with noisemakers that produced sounds closely resembling gunshots finally managed to drive the birds away briefly.
After several hours of this activity, Stone came out of the house, wearing his ever-present jacket despite the heat, and when he saw Jean, he came over to talk to her. At the same moment, however, two female onlookers who had been standing on the periphery also spotted Stone and moved quickly toward him, approaching him from the rear.
"Be still, my heart," sighed one of them, a frail-looking, fiftyish woman, who furtively sidled up behind the handsome director and signaled a male friend to take her picture with Stone. "Take it!" she hissed in a loud stage-whisper. "Hurry!"
"Walk along with me, Jean, and let's talk," Stone said, still blissfully unaware of the women's presence.
But as he moved away, he noticed that a whole crowd of people had now gathered and was following him. Stone turned around to acknowledge the smiling faces of his fans, made polite conversation for a few moments, and allowed himself to be photographed again and again.
When he excused himself to return to the exacting task of making a movie, it was obvious that Oliver Stone had also made his fans' day.
As he gave Jean a parting hug, she could feel every other woman in the crowd looking on with envy.
After Stone had disappeared back into the house, Jean found herself face to face with the frail woman who had tried so hard to sneak into a photo with Stone. The woman was clearly curious about how jean rated such special attention.
"Are you anybody?" she asked guilelessly.
Jean smiled. "I'm Jean Hill," she said, "and I sure feel like somebody."
For two weeks, Jean had been in contact with Stone's assistant, Kristina Hare, in quest of a special favor. She knew that Stone rarely, if ever, gave interviews on the set, but she had asked him to try to find a few minutes to talk to the editor of her school newspaper, and was hoping that he would comply.
On the afternoon of May 14, Kristina called to tell Jean to come to a studio at Las Colinas in the Dallas suburb of Irving. Stone was ready to do the interview, she said, but she cautioned Jean that she might have to wait.
The cavernous studio was scorchingly hot, and when Jean arrived, Stone was hard at work on a scene with actor Tom Howard, who portrays Lyndon Johnson in the film. They were inside an enclosed replica of the Oval Office doing a scene in which Johnson was meeting with his key advisors prior to the 1964 elections.
Howard was having problems with LBJ's Southern accent, and he kept having to repeat the lines, ". . . till they know we mean business in Asia. . . . Just get me elected, and I'll get you your damned war."
Someone placed two chairs for Jean and her friend beside the small door of the set only a few feet from where Stone was working, and several times, he raced past them without even noticing they were there. Jean had learned long before that when Stone was concentrating on a scene, he seemed to be wearing blinders and was oblivious to everything else.
Sometime during the evening, actor John Larroquette walked by and entered the small doorway to talk to Stone. Jean was familiar with Larroquette from his role on the TV series, "Night Court," but she wouldn't let her friend persuade her that this was actually him. When Jean learned from a crew member after he was gone that it had, indeed, been Larroquette, she immediately wanted his autograph for her collection, but the opportunity was lost.
"Come back tomorrow," the crew member said. "Larroquette and Kevin Costner will be doing a big scene at the University of Texas at Arlington. You can get his autograph there."
Between takes, Tom Howard came off the set and introduced himself to jean and her friend and fellow teacher, Lana Sloan, editor of the school newspaper. When he found out who Jean was, he gave her a kiss. Howard seemed perplexed with his difficulty in mastering LBJ's Southern drawl, explaining that, like Jean, he was originally from Oklahoma, but that he had worked to lose his drawl when he became an actor. Now he was struggling to get it back again.
Finally, after about three hours, Stone came out of the Oval Office, looked jean squarely in the eye and boomed, "Jean, you must learn to announce yourself. Someone told me you'd been here for hours. Is that right?"
Jean nodded, as Stone told her with simulated grumpiness, "I'm tired. Get up and give me your seat."
Then he turned to the school newspaper editor seated next to him, and asked politely: "Now what can 1 help you with?"
"I want to know what you think about this lady," Lana said, nodding at Jean.
"Jean, you get out of here," Stone said. "I can't talk about this with you watching me. You make me nervous."
As totally focused as he had been on the movie, Stone now became equally focused on the interview he was about to give.
And that was how Jean's elementary school newspaper, The Thompson Tiger, obtained perhaps the only "media" interview granted on the set of JFK.
Having missed John Larroquette's autograph the night before, Jean was determined to try again the next day. She received permission to leave school at noon and headed for the campus theater at UTA where filming was taking place.
In the parking lot, she was stopped by a young security guard named Mike Bain. "You can't go any farther than the corner," he said.
"I'm in the movie, and I need to get on the set," Jean told him.
"Who are you?" Bain asked.
When Jean explained, Bain not only let her past; he also asked for her autograph as though she were a star in her own right, It was only one of many such requests she would receive during the course of the filming. Bain was impressed not only with the fact that Jean was a real-life eyewitness to history, but that she would portray the stenographer who took the statement of the Jean Hill character in the movie.
"Be sure to write on there that you played the secretary to yourself," the young man urged. (Unfortunately, moviegoers do not see the real Jean Hill in the film. In order to hold the movie down to its official running time of three hours and eight minutes -- which still makes it an extremely long movie by current Hollywood standards -- Jean's highly dramatic scene was one of many that were cut from the final version. Even John Larroquette's part was completely deleted. Perhaps in an effort to soothe Jean's feelings about the omission, Stone has Costner prominently mention the name "Jean Hill" twice during his emotional final argument to the jury, which forms the climax of the film.)
On the set, Larroquette and Costner were already hard at work taping a talk show segment before an audience of extras. The crew politely moved Jean from one side of the theater to the other, depending on the camera angle, allowing her to watch the entire afternoon's filming.
She was joined at lunch by another new friend, Robert Groden, author of the book, High Treason, and also a technical advisor for the movie.
"Did you get that interview with Oliver?" he asked.
"Sure did," Jean replied.
"Wow!" he said, obviously impressed. "I'm sure that's one of the very few he's given."
Before the day was over, Jean not only got Larroquette's autograph, but a pleasant surprise from Costner, as well. As she was asking the star of JFK to autograph a picture of himself taken with her and actress Ellen McElduff on the grassy knoll, Costner told Jean matter-of-factly:
"I think I'll be able to come to your school this week."
"Really? When?" Jean asked tremulously. Costner's remark was so unexpected that it left her practically speechless.
"Oh, Thursday or Friday," he said.
Jean felt a thrill of anticipation surge through her. She had never allowed herself to believe that Kevin Costner would actually agree to come all the way across the city -- a normally composed city that had gone slightly ga-ga with "Kevin fever" over the past few weeks-to talk to a bunch of grade school kids. But now she realized that it was true. The leading man and director of Dances with Wolves, the star of the soon-to-be- released Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves-- the absolute biggest name in all of show business -- was really coming to her school! Unbelievable!
This was going to be a day that no one at H. S. Thompson Learning Center would ever forget, she thought.
But even Jean didn't realize until later what a once-in-a-lifetime experience lay just ahead for several hundred South Dallas youngsters.
H. S. Thompson principal Don Williams arrived at school early on the morning of Friday, May 17, just as he always does. But at first he gave no indication that he was expecting anything more dramatic to happen that day than the usual series of small crises that were part of his daily routine.
"Are you ready for today?" a teacher asked him, as he got out of his car.
"Kevin Costner's not coming," he told the teacher.
"Oh, yes, he is," the teacher argued.
"No, he's not," said Williams skeptically.
"Okay, just keep saying that, but he's going to be walking into this building pretty soon."
Sure enough, at 9:15 that morning, the Camelot Productions office called Jean to say that Costner and Jeff Flach were on their way to the school and would be there around 9:30. The news resounded through the school like a shock wave, touching off a pandemonium of preparations.
In the auditorium, a group of teachers and administrators worked frantically to welcome the most famous visitor in the School's history. Teacher John DeLaRosa was on a ladder hanging a welcome sign; assistant principal Judith Zimny and community liaisons Frances Murchison and Bruce Williams were placing plants on the stage; head custodian Arthur Clark was vacuuming.
At 9:30 on the dot, Costner and Flach drove up by themselves in a very ordinary-looking car. There was no vast entourage, no bodyguards, no chauffeur-driven limousines, no hype. As they walked through the front entrance, Jean greeted them with a plate of her homemade brownies, which they ate while they talked with Williams and the other administrators. Meanwhile, a group of very awed teachers queued up at the auditorium door, as eager as teenagers for a glimpse of the world's number one matinee idol, but managing to show remarkable restraint. A smiling, accommodating Costner spent several minutes signing autographs and posing for pictures.
The actor was clearly grateful that there were no TV cam- eras or flashing strobes, no pushy reporters demanding quotes, and no crush of boisterous outsiders. Costner had been the object of relentless pursuit by the public ever since his arrival in Dallas, a pursuit that was magnified by a daily "Kevin Watch" feature in a local newspaper, in which readers were urged to call in and describe where and how they had spotted the actor. Because such attention had forced Costner to "hide out" for much of his stay in the city, Jean had insisted that his visit to the school be kept totally confidential, with no alert given to the press, and her demand had been honored.
"This is especially nice because it's just us, and we can talk like friends with nobody watching us," Costner told his audience of 325 Thompson students after he was introduced by Williams. "I appreciate that."
Then, in an hour-long talk that somehow managed to be friendly, down-to-earth and gripping, all at the same time, Costner held his young audience spellbound with comments like these:
"If you follow your own path as a person, you have a chance to be very successful. Don't try to be something you're not. If you want to be a carpenter in your life, be the best carpenter you can be, the best architect, the best musician, the best teacher. That will be your job for the rest of your life, trying to find out who you are. Everyone of you is very special. There's no difference between you and me, except age . . .
"I wasn't a very good student, but I went to school. I liked recess more than other stuff, but I learned. . . . I tried. I kept going forward and in college I realized that the world is a very big place, and it doesn't wait for people. It won't wait for you either. The world moves very quickly, and you have to move with it. Your opportunity to move begins here. You have to learn how to read. You have to learn your math. You have to know if someone is cheating you . . .
"Drugs are unnatural. They aren't meant for you. It's kind of tough out in the world, but find a way to say no. . . . It's not always some mysterious person who comes up to you and tempts you to take drugs. Oftentimes, it can be one of your best friends, and that makes it hard, doesn't it? That's when you have to be the hero. That's when you can't look to the movies for your heroes. You have to tell yourself, 'I'm going to say no; I know who I am. I'll find other friends.' It may hurt for a little bit, but if you're going to be a hero, that's what you have to do."
At the end of his talk, the audience jumped up to give Costner a standing ovation, and Williams hurriedly handed him an H. S. Thompson T-shirt. Jean thanked him profusely for coming, and he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
"Oooooooh," the kids said.
At the door, Costner paused to compliment the students. "The kids are really nice," he said. "I'm impressed."
In that sentiment, he had plenty of company.
For Jean, one of the most pleasant aspects of her association with JFK was the opportunity for her daughter, Jeanne, to play a minor role in it. Toward the end of the filming in the Dallas area, Jeanne arrived from Chicago, and visited the set with her mother to meet members of the cast and crew, watch the action, and be an actual part of it.
Early in the process of developing the script for the film, Stone had been struck by the resemblance in photographs between Jeanne and her mother at Jeanne's age, and he had suggested that Jeanne try out for Jean's role. It was a tantalizing idea, but because the Jean Hill character emerged as one of three major female roles in JFK, Stone later decided that it was vital to cast an experienced actress in the part. Jeanne, however, was to play the role of a nurse in the trauma room at Parkland Hospital, where the mortally wounded Kennedy was brought after he was shot.
Packing a bagful of cookies, Jean and Jeanne paid a visit to a set in East Dallas, where the production company was recreating the murder of Off. J. D. Tippit.
Soon after they arrived on the set, Stone spotted them and called out to her "Jean, what are you doing here?"
"I've brought you some cookies," she said, handing him the bag as he came over to bestow his usual hug.
"Jean Hill's brought me some cookies," Stone announced loudly, facing the crew and holding the bag in the air.
When the cheering and applause died down -- Jean was justifiably famous for her cookies by now -- Jean introduced her daughter to Stone.
"I could tell this was your daughter," he said, as Jeanne snapped a picture of Jean and Stone together.
Before they left for the wardrobe department to be fitted for costumes for the next day's shooting, Jean handed Stone a card that pointed out various similarities between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy. "This is for your son," she said. "I thought he might find it interesting."
Contrary to what many fans believe about the relaxed, late-sleeping lifestyle of movie actors, Jean had learned that filming often begins at an agonizingly early hour and sometimes continues, with only a couple of short breaks for meals, until midnight or after So it came as no surprise when she and Jeanne were instructed to be in Fort Worth by 7:00 AM the next morning to do their separate scenes. Filming was to take place at St. Joseph's Hospital there because it more closely resembled the Parkland Hospital of the 1960s than the vastly changed and enlarged Parkland of the 1990s.
In Jean's scene, she portrayed the stenographer who took Jean Hill's testimony for the Warren Commission, and although it was not a speaking role, Jean was slightly nervous. Rather than trying to write down on her pad what actress Ellen McElduff was actually saying in the scene, Jean merely scribbled: "Now is the time . . . Oliver Stone . . . Jean Hill . . . He said . . . She said . . . etc."
It was a highly emotional scene, in which Jean Hill is roughly interrogated by the Warren Commission attorney, and when, after a number of retakes, the scene was completed to Stone's satisfaction, Jean and Ellen embraced each other, and both were moved to tears.
"It was very tense . . . very real," Jean recalls. "We couldn't do anything but hold each other and cry."
It was not until this same day that Jean realized what a truly crucial role her character had in the movie. "Before the day was over, some of the extras who had been in bunches of movies came up and said, 'I want to shake your hand,"' Jean says, still slightly awed. "One actor who played a doctor told me, 'I've never wanted an autograph from anyone before, but it would be an honor to have yours."'
From its inception and her first meeting with Oliver Stone until its completion in mid-summer 1991, the JFK movie remained at or near the center of Jean's life for almost a year. When filming was completed in and around Dallas, the production crew moved on to New Orleans to do the major scenes involving Jim Garrison, and although she was again experiencing some health problems, Jean was able to join them there for several days.
As she arrived at the Camelot Productions offices in downtown New Orleans, Jean was armed with her trademark bag of homemade cookies, and she was greeted like a long-lost sister by her many friends in the office. Clayton Townsend jokingly seized the bag and retreated into his office with Jean's cookies, closing the door behind him and clearly implying that he planned to devour them all. However, she was later assured that Townsend did agree to share them with the rest of the staff.
From there, Jean went immediately to the set, an old, two-story residence located in the city's picturesque Garden District and closely resembling the home occupied in the 1960s by Garrison, his wife and five children. There, she enjoyed a spirited reunion with Stone and presented Costner with copies of a highly complimentary newspaper article on his visit to her school. Rory Houston, a fellow teacher, had express-mailed the article to New Orleans after Jean realized she had forgotten to bring it.
"I hope you're going to be here for a while," Costner told her. Jean assured him that she was.
During the next few days, Jean met and had a long talk with Costner's co-star, Sissy Spacek, who played Mrs. Garrison in the film, and who seemed as fascinated to meet a person of historic significance as Jean was to meet the movie's female lead. She also had a chance to meet several other cast members who hadn't participated in the Dallas portion of the filming.
Crew members took her on a tour of the house, allowing her to watch as set changes were made, and over the next several days, she had numerous chances to see actual scenes being shot and to chat at length between takes with the principals of the film.
Being a part of this epic production and being able to share priceless moments with the most honored names in the movie industry had undeniably been one of the all-time high points of Jean's life.
She was sure that, in years to come, she would relive and cherish those moments hundreds of times. Long after the hoopla was all over, she would treasure a legacy of fond memories of her venture into filmmaking -- memories that would stand out in sweet, sharp contrast to those dark recollections of the actual events which the movie portrayed. It was hard to believe, even now, that her most terrible, shattering experiences had given rise to more wonderful and fulfilling times than she had ever thought possible.
For a little while, reality and make-believe had come together in a remarkable union, and out of that marriage Jean Hill had discovered a richer, more rewarding sense of self-worth than she had ever known before.
For that, she would always be grateful to "Oliver . . . and Co." (1)
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Back to Cameos
You may wish to see:
An analysis of Jean Hill's testimony
Who's Who in the Jim Garrison Case
Jim Garrison's New Orleans Photo Gallery
Articles and resources on Jim Garrison's New Orleans conspiracy investigation,
including the Clay Shaw trial transcript
Articles and resources on the JFK assassination
Dave Reitzes home page
1. Bill Sloan with Jean Hill, JFK: The Last Dissenting Witness (Gretna, La.: Pelican, 1992), pp. 223-42. Thanks to Linda Johnson.
Back to the top
Back to Cameos
You may wish to see:
An analysis of Jean Hill's testimony
Who's Who in the Jim Garrison Case
Jim Garrison's New Orleans Photo Gallery
Articles and resources on Jim Garrison's New Orleans conspiracy investigation,
including the Clay Shaw trial transcript
Articles and resources on the JFK assassination
Dave Reitzes home page