Steven Hill: Wikis

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Steven Hill
Born Solomon Krakovsky
February 24, 1922 (1922-02-24) (age 88)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Occupation actor
Spouse(s) Selma Stern (1951–1964); Rachel (1967-present)

Steven Hill (born February 24, 1922) is an American film and television actor. His two best-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 CBS's television series Mission: Impossible, whom he portrayed only in the initial season of the show (1966–1967).

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Early life and career

Hill was born Solomon Krakovsky in Seattle, Washington.[1] After serving four-years in the Naval Reserve, Hill made his first New York 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," says 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 service he played the hapless sailor Stefanowski.[2] "You could almost smell it from the very first reading that took place - this is going to be an overwhelming hit," said Hill.[2] "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."[2]

In 1947, Hill became a founding member of Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio alongside such other actors as Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Julie Harris.[3]

Hill made his film debut in 1950 in Lady Without a Passport.[3] He then re-enlisted in the Navy in 1952 for two years and when he completed his service resumed his acting in earnest.[3] Strasberg later said, "Steven Hill is considered one of the finest actors America has ever produced".[3] 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 prestigious video offerings as The Trial of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1960 earning him an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of Bartolomeo Vanzetti.[3] "When I first became an actor, there were two young actors in New York: Marlon Brando and Steven Hill," said Martin Landau.[3] "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".[3]

In 1961, Hill had an unusual experience when he appeared as Sigmund Freud on Broadway in Henry Denker's A Far Country[4] portraying Freud at the age of 35.[5] 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.[6] As a result the producers decided to cance the performance just as the curtain was about to go up.[6] Among the notables in the audience were Joseph P. Kennedy, Jack Benny and Richard Rodgers.[6] The audience was invited to exchange its ticket stubs for other performances.[6] The understudy was not ready to replace Hill, so the play's director stepped into the role of Freud for one performance.[7]

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

Mission: Impossible

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 be leaving 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.

Hill was briefly suspended from the show near the end of the season, during the production of episode no. 23 (entitled Action!). The suspension was imposed after he refused to climb the rafters via a soundstage staircase, as was called for in the script.[8] (This incident was 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.[9]

Hiatus and return to acting

After appearing in Mission: Impossible, Hill didn't work in acting 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.[10] Hill 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".[10] 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), Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs, Heartburn (1986), and Billy Bathgate (1991). Hill also appeared as a mob kingpin in Raw Deal (1986), an action vehicle for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Law & Order

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 district attorney of New York, Robert Morgenthau[11] and it is reported that Morgenthau was a fan of the character.[12][13] Hill says playing Adam Schiff is the hardest role he's ever had because of all the legal jargon he has to learn.[1] "It's like acting in a second language," says Hill.[1] Hill adds that he agrees with the show's philosophy.[1] "There's a certain positive statement in this show," Hill says.[1] "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, Hill was the longest-serving cast member. Along with Law & Order castmate Sam Waterston, Hill has also appeared in commercials for T.D. Waterhouse, an investment brokerage.

Personal life

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.

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Orthodox Judaism

Steven Hill (left) at his grandson's wedding in New Square, NY

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.[3] "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".[3] He was inspired by the late Skverrer Rebbe[citation needed] 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 the Shabbat.[3] This made Hill unavailable for Friday night or Saturday matinee performances and effectively ended his stage career and closed many roles to him in the movies, most notably The Sand Pebbles.[3]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p New York Times. "Signoff; On 'Law and Order,' a Real Idealist." February 2, 1996.
  2. ^ a b c New York Times. "'Mister Roberts' Goes to Washington" by Todd Purdum. March 6, 2005.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Steven Hill: Hollywood's Most Talented Curmudgeon" by John Sobiski.
  4. ^ New Play on Broadway - TIME
  5. ^ New York Times. "Co-Stars Named for 'Far Country'" by Sam Zolotow. December 22, 1960.
  6. ^ a b c d New York Time. ""'Far Country' Not Given" April 12, 1961.
  7. ^ New York Times. "Director with Actor Complex Replaces Ill Star in Freud Role" by Milton Esterow. April 13, 1962.
  8. ^ White, P., "The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier," pages 98-99, Avon Books 1991.
  9. ^ White 1991 pages 60-61 and 100.
  10. ^ a b Time Magazine. "New Play on Broadway" April 14, 1961.
  11. ^ Marvin Kitman (2000-08-02). "CNN.com - Entertainment - Another crime perpetrated on 'Law & Order'". CNN. http://archives.cnn.com/2000/SHOWBIZ/TV/08/02/marvin.kitman.lat. Retrieved 2008-07-01. 
  12. ^ Robert Morgenthau
  13. ^ Robert Morgenthau - Manhattan DA

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