Cagney was a regular visitor to the home of famed desert artist, John W. Hilton in Twentynine Palms, were he would relax and paint far from the hubbub of Hollywood life. Cagney owned a desert get away nearby and enjoyed spending time with his neighbor and friend, John Hilton.
John's daughter, artist Kathi Hilton tells the story of when she was thirty years old and a beginning artist in her own right. She told James she was concerned that many people would say her work was too close to that of her father. Cagney took young Kathi under his arm and supportively told her, "Katy my dear, don't you worry about that, you just paint what's in your heart." To this day, Kathi says that's the best advice she's ever received, and holds memories of Jimmy most dear.