Steven Hill

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For other people named Steven or Stephen Hill, see Stephen Hill (disambiguation).
Steven Hill
Steven Hill Dan Briggs Mission Impossible.JPG
Hill as Dan Briggs on Mission: Impossible
Born Solomon Krakovsky
(1922-02-24) February 24, 1922 (age 93)
Seattle, Washington, USA
Occupation actor
Years active 1949–67, 1977–2000
Religion Jewish
Spouse(s) Selma Stern (1951–1964)
Rachel (1967–present)
Children 9
Awards Sylvania Television Award dramatic actor of the year 1954

Steven Hill (born February 24, 1922) is a retired American film and television actor. His two better-known roles are District Attorney Adam Schiff on the NBC TV drama series Law & Order, whom he portrayed for ten seasons (1990–2000), and Dan Briggs, the original team leader of the Impossible Missions Force on the CBS television series Mission: Impossible, whom he portrayed in the initial season of the show (1966–67).

Early life[edit]

Hill was born Solomon Krakovsky in Seattle, Washington to Russian immigrants.[1][2] Hill served four years in the United States Naval Reserve.[3] In the 1950s, Hill moved to New York, New York to pursue an acting career.[2]

Career[edit]

Hill made his first Broadway stage appearance in Ben Hecht's A Flag Is Born in 1946, which also featured a young Marlon Brando.[1] Hill says his big break came when he landed a small part in the hit Broadway show Mister Roberts.[1] "The director, Joshua Logan, thought I had some ability, and he let me create one of the scenes," said Hill.[1] "So, I improvised dialog and it went in the show. That was my first endorsement. It gave me tremendous encouragement to stay in the business."[1] Hill said this was a thrilling time in his life when, fresh out of the Navy, he played the hapless sailor Stefanowski.[4] "You could almost smell it from the very first reading that took place; this is going to be an overwhelming hit," said Hill.[4] "We all felt it and experienced it and were convinced of it, and we were riding the crest of a wave from the very first day of rehearsals."[4]

In 1947, Hill joined Brando, Montgomery Clift, and Julie Harris, amongst others as one of the 50 fortunate applicants (out of approximately 700 interviewed) to be accepted by the newly created Actors Studio.[5][6]

Hill made his film debut in 1950 in A Lady Without Passport.[7] He then re-enlisted in the Navy in 1952 for two years and, when he completed his service, resumed his acting in earnest.[7] Strasberg later said, "Steven Hill is considered one of the finest actors America has ever produced".[7] When he was starting out as an actor, Hill sought out roles that had a social purpose.[1] "Later, I learned that show business is about entertaining," he says.[1] "So, I've had to reconcile my idealistic feelings with reality".[1]

Hill was particularly busy in the so-called "Golden Age" of live TV drama, appearing in such offerings as The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1960, where he portrayed Bartolomeo Vanzetti.[7] "When I first became an actor, there were two young actors in New York: Marlon Brando and Steven Hill," said Martin Landau.[7] "A lot of people said that Steven would have been the one, not Marlon. He was legendary. Nuts, volatile, mad, and his work was exciting".[7]

In 1961, Hill had an unusual experience when he appeared as Sigmund Freud on Broadway in Henry Denker's A Far Country,[8] portraying Freud at the age of 35.[9] On April 12, 1961, Hill was stricken with a virus the night of a sold-out performance for the Masters Children's Center of Dobbs Ferry.[10] As a result, the producers decided to cancel the performance just as the curtain was about to go up.[10] Among the notables in the audience were Joseph P. Kennedy, Jack Benny, and Richard Rodgers.[10] The audience was invited to exchange its ticket stubs for other performances.[10] The understudy was not ready to replace Hill, so Alfred Ryder, the play's director, stepped into the role of Freud for one performance.[11]

In 1961, he was cast as B.E. Langard in the episode "Act of Piracy" of the ABC series, Adventures in Paradise, starring Gardner McKay. He appeared in the original Robert Stack ABC/Desilu crime drama, The Untouchables episode "Jack 'Legs' Diamond" giving a compelling cold evil performance as the eponymous character, and a similar sinister role as a bedridden (following an accident), ruthlessly manipulative millionaire in 'The White Knight,' a 1966 black-and-white third season episode of The Fugitive, starring David Janssen.

Hill's early screen credits include The Goddess and A Child Is Waiting.

Mission: Impossible[edit]

Hill was the original leader of the Impossible Missions Force, Dan Briggs in the series Mission: Impossible beginning in 1966. The phrase "Good morning, Mr. Briggs..." was a fixture early in each episode as it began a tape recording he retrieved which detailed the task he must accomplish. However, he left the show in 1967 after the end of the first season. As one of the few Orthodox Jewish actors working in Hollywood, he made it clear in advance of production that he was not able to work on the Sabbath (i.e., sundown Friday to dusk Saturday), and that he would leave the set every Friday before sundown. However, despite Hill's advance warnings, the show's producers were unprepared for his rigid adherence to the Sabbath, and on at least one occasion Hill left the set while an episode was still in the midst of filming. The producers used a number of ways of reducing the role of Hill's character Dan Briggs whereby his character would only obtain and hand out the mission details at the start of certain episodes being unable to take further part as he was known to people they would encounter (used at least three times), or Briggs would need to don a disguise and another actor would then play his role incognito until the conclusion of the mission (and episode) when Briggs peeled off a face mask. On other occasions Briggs would be waiting to pick up the team at the end. Usually Martin Landau's character (Rollin Hand) would take over as the team leader for missions in Briggs' absence, Landau being initially a "special guest star" for the first season, not even included in the show's original opening credits.

According to Desilu executive Herb Solow, once William Shatner burst into his office, claiming "Steve asked me how many Jews worked on Star Trek. He was recruiting a prayer group of ten guys to worship together on top of the studio's highest building and only had six Jews so far from Mission. He asked if I would come and bring Nimoy and Justman and you."[12]

Hill was briefly suspended from the show near the end of the season, during the production of episode no. 23 (entitled "Action!", where for the only time Barbara Bain's character Cinnamon Carter obtained the mission via the taped instructions, although Landau's character Rollin Hand then led the team). The suspension was imposed after he refused to climb the rafters via a soundstage staircase as was called for in the script.[13] This incident was ostensibly unrelated to any religious observances of Hill's. Consequently, Hill was written out of that episode and when he returned to Mission: Impossible for the five remaining episodes of the season, his role was severely reduced. Hill was not asked to return for season 2, and was replaced as the show's star by Peter Graves.[14] No onscreen explanation was ever given regarding Dan Briggs' later absence from the series.

Hiatus and return to acting[edit]

After appearing in Mission: Impossible, Hill did no acting work for the following ten years. Hill had what he calls "tremendous periods of unemployment" in his career.[1] "What we have here is a story of profound instability and impermanence," he said of his own career.[1] "This is what you learn at the beginning in show business; then it gets planted in you forever".[1] Hill left acting in 1967 and moved to a Jewish community in Rockland County, New York where he worked in writing and real estate.[15] Patrick J. White, in The Complete "Mission: Impossible" Dossier, quoted Hill as having said later, "I don't think an actor should act every single day. I don't think it's good for the so-called creative process. You must have periods when you leave the land fallow, let it revitalize itself."[15] After ten years, he was ready to begin acting again. "They say you can't quit show business," he said in 1977. "It took ten years, but I couldn't get it out of my system. So I called an agent and put him to work."

Hill returned to work in the 1980s and 1990s, playing parental and authority-figure roles in such films as Yentl (1983), Garbo Talks (1984), Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs, Heartburn (1986), Running on Empty (1988), Billy Bathgate (1991) and The Firm (1993). Hill also appeared as a mob kingpin in Raw Deal (1986), an action vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hill played New York District Attorney Bower in Legal Eagles, a 1986 film, foreshadowing his appearance as Adam Schiff in Law & Order.

Law & Order[edit]

Hill is best known as Adam Schiff in the NBC TV drama series Law & Order, a part that he played for ten seasons (1990–2000). Hill's character is loosely modeled after the real former district attorney of New York, Robert Morgenthau[16] and it is reported that Morgenthau was a fan of the character.[17][18] Hill says playing Adam Schiff is the hardest role he's ever had because of all the legal jargon he had to learn.[1] "It's like acting in a second language," says Hill.[1] Hill adds that he agrees with the show's philosophy, saying that "there's a certain positive statement in this show. So much is negative today. The positive must be stated to rescue us from pandemonium. To me it lies in that principle: law and order."[1] Hill earned another Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor In a Dramatic Series in 1997.

At the time of his departure from Law & Order, Hill was the longest-serving member of the original cast (his tenure was twice that of runner up Chris Noth); by the time the series was cancelled in 2010, Hill was the fourth longest-serving cast member altogether (behind S. Epatha Merkerson, Sam Waterston and Jerry Orbach). Hill also appeared in commercials for TD Waterhouse, an investment brokerage, and was eventually replaced by fellow Law & Order cast mate Sam Waterston.

Personal life[edit]

Hill and his first wife, Selma Stern, were married in 1951 and had four children before divorcing in 1964. Hill married his second wife, Rachel, in 1967 and they have five children.

His Orthodox Judaism[edit]

Appearing in the play A Far Country in 1961 had a profound effect on Hill's later life. In one scene, a patient screams at Freud, "You are a Jew!" This caused Hill to think about his religion.[7] "In the pause that followed I would think, 'What about this?' I slowly became aware that there was something more profound going on in the world than just plays and movies and TV shows. I was provoked to explore my religion."[7] He was inspired by Rabbi Yakov Yosef Twersky (1899–1968), the late Skverrer Rebbe,[19] to adhere to strict Orthodox Judaism, observing a kosher diet, praying three times a day, wearing a four-cornered fringed garment beneath his clothes, and strictly observing Shabbat.[7] This made Hill unavailable for Friday night or Saturday matinee performances, effectively ending his stage career and closing many roles to him in the movies, most notably The Sand Pebbles.[7]

Filmography[edit]

Film[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1950 A Lady Without Passport Jack
1955 Storm Fear Benjie
1958 The Goddess John Tower Credited as Steve Hill
1959 Kiss Her Goodbye Ed Wilson
1963 A Child Is Waiting Ted Widdicombe
1965 The Slender Thread Mark Dyson
1970 Miracle of Survival: Israel's Heroic Battle for Life Narrator[20]
1980 It's My Turn Jacob
1981 Eyewitness Lt. Jacobs
Rich and Famous Jules Levi
1983 Yentl Reb Alter Vishkower
1984 Teachers Sloan
Garbo Talks Walter Rolfe
1986 On Valentine's Day George Tyler
Raw Deal Lamanski
Legal Eagles Bower
Heartburn Rachel's Father
Brighton Beach Memoirs Mr. Stroheim
1987 Courtship George Tyler
1988 Running on Empty Mr. Patterson
The Boost Max Sherman
1990 White Palace Sol Horowitz
1991 Billy Bathgate Otto Berman
1993 The Firm F. Denton Voyles Plays an FBI director

Television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1949 Suspense Guest star Episode: "The Serpent Ring" (S 2:Ep 7)
Actors Studio Guest star 4 episodes
1950 Suspense Dolph Romano
  • Episode: "My Old Man's Badge" (S 2:Ep 29)
  • Credited as Steve Hill
1952 Schlitz Playhouse of Stars Guest star Episode: "The Man that I Marry" (S 1:Ep 16)
Danger Guest star Episode: "The Hero" (S 2:Ep 28)
Lux Video Theatre Hank Episode: "A Legacy For Love" (S 3:Ep 7)
1953 The Philco Television Playhouse Guest Star Episode: "The Long Way Home" (S 5:Ep 17)
1954 Goodyear Television Playhouse Mr. Frank Episode: "The Inward Eye" (S 3:Ep 11)
1954 Goodyear Television Playhouse Guest star Episode: "The Arena" (S 3:Ep 21)
The Philco Television Playhouse George Episode: "Middle of the Night" (S 7:p 1)
The Philco Television Playhouse Horace Mann Borden Episode: "Man on the Mountain" (S 7:Ep 3)
1956 Playwrights '56 Walter Uhlan Episode: "Lost" (S 1:Ep 9)
1957 Studio One Slim Breedlove Episode: "The Traveling Lady" (S 9:Ep 28)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Joe Kedzie Episode: "Enough Rope for Two" {S 3:Ep 7)
1958 DuPont Show of the Month Guest star Episode:"The Bridge of San Luis Rey" (S 1:Ep 5)
1959 Playhouse 90 Agustin Episodes:
  • "For Whom the Bell Tolls, part 1" (S 3:Ep 23)
  • "For Whom the Bell Tolls, part 2" (S 3:Ep 24)
1960 Playhouse 90 Dr. Edward Gutera Episode: "Journey to the Day" (S 4:Ep 14)
Sunday Showcase Bartolomeo Vanzetti Episodes:
  • "The Sacco-Vanzetti Story, part 1" (S 1:Ep 29)
  • "The Sacco-Vanzetti Story, part 2" (S 1:Ep 30)
The Untouchables Jack "Legs" Diamond Episode: "Jack "Legs" Diamond" (S 2:Ep 2)
1961 Adventures in Paradise B.E. Langard Episode: "Act of Piracy" (S 2:Ep 18)
1962 Route 66 Frank Madera Episode: "A City of Wheels" (S 2:Ep 17)
The Untouchables Joseph December, Jr. Episode: "Downfall" (S 3:Ep 22)
The Eleventh Hour Guest star Episode: "There Are Dragons in This Forest" (S 1:Ep 2)
Ben Casey Ollie Episode: "Legacy From A Stranger" (S 2:Ep 4)
1962 Dr. Kildare Dr. Chandra Ramid Episode: "The Cobweb Chain" (S 2:Ep 8)
1963 Ben Casey Dr. Keith Bernard Episode: "I'll Be Alright In The Morning" (S 2:Ep 14)
Naked City Stanley Episode: "Barefoot on a Bed of Coals" (S 4:Ep 34)
Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Ruben Fare Episode: "Something About Lee Wiley" (S 1:Ep 2)
Espionage Andrew Evans Episode: "The Incurable One" (S 1:Ep 3)
1964 The Greatest Show on Earth Guest star Episode: "Corsicans Don't Cry" (S 1:Ep 16)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents Charlie Osgood Episode: "Who Needs an Enemy?"" (S 2:28)
1965 Alfred Hitchcock Presents Robert Manners Episode: "Thanatos Place Hotel" (S 3:Ep 15)
Kraft Suspense Theatre Guest star Episode: "The Safe House" (S 2:Ep 26)
Rawhide Marty Brown Episode: "The Gray Rock Hotel" (S 7:Ep 30)
1966 The Fugitive Glenn Madison Episode: "The White Knight" (S 3:Ep 26)
1966–67 Mission: Impossible Dan Briggs Main cast
1977 The Andros Targets Ed Conway Episode: "In The Event of my Death" (S 1:Ep 4)[21]
1978 King Stanley Levison TV miniseries
1984–85 One Life to Live Aristotle Descamedes Recurring[22][23]
1986 Between Two Women Teddy Petherton TV Movie
1988 Thirtysomethng Leo Steadman Episode: "Business as Usual" (S 1:Ep 15)
1989 Columbo Mr. Marosco Episode: "Murder, Smoke and Shadows" (S 8:Ep 2)
1990–2000 Law & Order Adam Schiff Main cast
2000 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Adam Schiff Episode: "Entitled" {S 1:Ep 15)
2003 E's 101: Most Shocking Moments in Entertainment Interview

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Signoff; On 'Law and Order,' a Real Idealist", The New York Times, February 2, 1996 .
  2. ^ a b "Steven Hill Biography". biography.com. Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Steven Hill". nndb.com. Retrieved February 1, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b c Purdum, Todd (March 6, 2005), "Mister Roberts' Goes to Washington", The New York Times .
  5. ^ Robert Lewis (1996) [1984]. "Actors Studio, 1947". Slings and Arrows: Theater in My Life. New York: Applause Books. p. 183. ISBN 1-55783-244-7. At the end of the summer, on Gadget's return from Hollywood, we settled the roster of actors for our two classes in what we called the Actors Studio - using the word 'studio' as we had when we named our workshop in the Group, the Group Theatre Studio... My group, meeting three times a week, consisted of Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach, Mildred Dunnock, Jerome Robbins, Herbert Berghof, Tom Ewell, John Forsythe, Anne Jackson, Sidney Lumet, Kevin McCarthy, Karl Malden, E.G. Marshall, Patricia Neal, Beatrice Straight, David Wayne, and - well, I don't want to drop names, so I'll stop there. In all, there were about fifty. 
  6. ^ Dick Kleiner: "The Actors Studio: Making Stars Out of the Unknown," The Sarasota Journal (Friday, December 21, 1956), p. 26. "That first year, they interviewed around 700 actors and picked 50. In that first group were people like Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Tom Ewell, John Forsythe, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, Karl Malden, E.G. Marshall, Margaret Phillips, Maureen Stapleton, Kim Stanley, Jo Van Fleet, Eli Wallach, Ray Walston and David Wayne."
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sobiski, John, Steven Hill: Hollywood's Most Talented Curmudgeon .
  8. ^ "Theater: New Play on Broadway". Time. April 14, 1961. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  9. ^ Zolotow, Sam (December 22, 1960), "Co-Stars Named for 'Far Country'", The New York Times .
  10. ^ a b c d "'Far Country' Not Given", The New York Times, April 12, 1961 .
  11. ^ Esterow, Milton (April 13, 1962), "Director with Actor Complex Replaces Ill Star in Freud Role", The New York Times .
  12. ^ Solow, H; Justman, R (1996), Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, Pocket Books, p. 99 .
  13. ^ White 1991, pp. 98–99.
  14. ^ White 1991, pp. 60–61, 100.
  15. ^ a b "New Play on Broadway", The New Times, April 14, 1961 .
  16. ^ Kitman, Marvin (2000-08-02). "Another crime perpetrated on 'Law & Order'". Entertainment (CNN). Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  17. ^ "Robert Morgenthau", J source (Biography), Jewish virtual library .
  18. ^ "Robert Morgenthau — Manhattan DA", NY mag .
  19. ^ BENSOUSSAN, Barbara (June 30, 2010), "The Master Storyteller: Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Hill Tells His Story", Mishpacha (315) .
  20. ^ Barnes & Noble, Miracle of Survival: Israel's Heroic Battle for Life .
  21. ^ The Classic TV Archive, The Andros Targets (1977) .
  22. ^ Schemering, Christopher (September 1985). "One Life to Live". The Soap Opera Encyclopedia. Ballantine Books. pp. 158–166. ISBN 0-345-32459-5. 
  23. ^ Waggett, Gerard J. (November 1997). "One Life to Live". The Soap Opera Encyclopedia. Harper Paperbacks. pp. 163–188. ISBN 0-06-101157-6. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • White, P (1991), The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier, Avon Books .

External links[edit]