'Hidey Ho, Neighbor'

'Home Improvement's' Wilson peeks in on family

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The Rim country is well known for the warm personalities found throughout our friendly neighborhoods, but a recent "hidey ho, neighbor" was heard from an unlikely source.

Earl Hindman might not be a familiar name, but his face at least the upper half could easily be one you've found yourself laughing at on television without realizing his ties to the Payson area.

He is the neighbor who you typically saw peeking over the fence of Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor on the hit ABC sitcom "Home Improvement." Tim and his family constantly gained unique and often much-needed perspective from the world-traveler and self-proclaimed expert on most any topic.

As the neighbor Wilson, Hindman was the source of one of the show's longest running gags: the audience never saw a full shot of his face. Wilson peered over the fence, was seen reading a newspaper, and in one of the more cleaver episodes, he was seen wearing the Phantom of the Opera mask.

Because the show always had his face partially hidden, Hindman now delights in being out in public view without struggling with the fanfare and autograph seekers who many Hollywood celebrities grow weary of dealing with.

Even though you might not instantly recognize his face, he only has to speak a few words before it becomes obvious who he is. Such was the case when I inadvertently bumped into him.

When Rim country resident Dean Shields introduced me to her brother, she mentioned only that he had some ties to the sitcom. He spoke only three or four words before I held up my hand to conceal my view of his lower face. Instantly, I knew ... hey that's Wilson!

In most cases, Hollywood celebrities are usually quite different than the characters they play on TV. In many ways, Hindman breaks that mold he really is Wilson.

"In the show, I had my own little house full of lots of unusual things like African masks which is quite a bit like I live now," he said. "My wife is an antique collector so our house looks like Wilson's set with Chinese chests and lots of apothecary things."

"When I told them I'd be behind a fence, they all went 'Oh that's typical,' but as it turned out that was the greatest thing that I could have done," he said. "I got more fame from that part than the ones where you stand out there and give 3000 Shakespearian lines."

When asked how much of the character he modeled after himself, Hindman said it really more closely resembles someone else.

"The character I modeled him after was quite a bit like my dad, which kind of developed as we went along. My dad is an inveterate tinkerer who lives in Tucson," he said.

In fact Hindman was raised in Arizona, spending much of his early years in Bisbee. "He (my dad) wasn't quite the philosopher that Wilson was, but he was always tinkering and always humming while he worked. So whenever I would do the show, I'd always try to start off a scene by humming."

As for others on the show, Hindman said in some ways Tim Taylor the mechanically challenged and sometimes bumbling host of the show-within-a-show Tool Time resembles Tim Allen in real life.

"Tim is not a bumbler. Tim loves technical stuff. In fact, you could say he's a technocrat. His house is so heavily wired that after the big Northridge earthquake, his totally electronic house got smashed and when he had it redone there were so many wiring problems that when he came in and turned on the lights, the toilets flushed," he said jokingly.

Although that sounds like Tim Taylor, the wiring problems were the result of someone else's work.

Hindman said there is a part of Tim's character on the show that is truly Tim. "Tim is Tim Taylor when it comes to his humor. Tim is a very funny man and in fact, is even funnier in person than he is on the air," Hindman said. "He's a very sweet man who I found great humor in and loved to work with every day."

Hindman said he was sad when the show was finally over because he had spent eight years doing something he truly enjoyed.

So what is Hindman doing now? "I do a lot of voice work and have been the voice for Home Depot, so I've made a good chunk of change doing that. I also saved a fair amount of money while doing 'Home Improvement,' so financially I'm OK," he said.

Refusing to live in Los Angeles, Hindman lives in Stamford, Conn., but stays busy with various television projects. "I've done some shots on TV shows and pilots and that kind of stuff, but in a way I am kind of semi-retired. But if a script comes along that has wit, absolute humor or even a good message, I'm sure I'd consider it," he said. "I'm at the point where I don't want to do small parts, but I'm at the age where I'm not going to be playing the lead or the love interest, so I do what comes along. I'm a free-lancer. I'm for hire," he said.

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