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An Appreciation: Steven Hill 1922 - 2016
August 23, 2016  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

Steven Hill, who became well known as District Attorney Adam Schiff on Law & Order, but whose acting career was guided even more by his religious faith, died Tuesday (8/23) in Monsey, N.Y., his daughter Sarah told the New York Times.

He was 94.

Adam Schiff was a leveling force on Law & Order for 11 seasons, from 1990 to 2000. He often cautioned attorneys on both sides not to take risks for what they considered principles, arguing that a plea bargain was often the best practical course.

Hill told the Times in 1996 that he understood standing up for principle, but that “our stories are about real life and that’s how life is today. We plea bargain all over the place.”

Hill’s portrayal of Schiff won him two Emmy nominations, in 1998 and 1999.

Hill’s other most famous television role was playing Dan Briggs, the first leader on TV’s Mission: Impossible before Peter Graves took over the role in the show’s second season.

It was his departure from Mission: Impossible (right), which was never explained on the show, that underscored Hill’s relationship with acting and religious faith.

Born Solomon Krakovsky in 1922 in Seattle, son of Russian immigrants, he began his acting career after serving in World War II.

His first role on Broadway was in A Flag Is Born, where his fellow cast members included Marlon Brando.

A year later, he joined Brando, Montgomery Clift, Julie Harris and 46 other actors in the first class at Lee Strasberg’s famous Actors Studio.

“Steven Hill is considered one of the finest actors America ever produced,” Strasberg told writer John Sobiski years later.

Martin Landau told Sobiski, “When I first became an actor, there were two young actors in New York: Marlon Brando and Steven Hill. 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.”

Hill acted in movies, on early television dramas and on stage, including the original Mister Roberts. But his roles were modest, and in 1952 he reenlisted for two more years in the Navy.

When he resumed acting, he became a familiar face on television shows from Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Playhouse 90 to Naked City and Ben Casey.

In 1961 he appeared in the play A Far Country, and he later said that one line in that play, where a character screams at Sigmund Freud, “You’re a Jew!,” led him to reexamine his own faith.

Inspired by the well-known Rabbi Yakov Yosef Twersky, he became a strict Orthodox Jew, eating kosher, praying three times a day and observing the Sabbath.

His unavailability for filming from Friday sundown through Saturday forced him to turn down several roles, including one in The Sand Pebbles.

It also became an issue with Mission: Impossible, where producers had agreed to accommodate his schedule, but found it became difficult. It was reportedly one of the major factors he left the show.

While Hill didn’t make a direct connection, he left acting for 11 years after Mission: Impossible, moving to a Jewish community in Rockland County, New York, to pursue writing and real estate.

He returned to acting in 1978 and again became a familiar character, first in movies like Yentl, Heartburn and Billy Bathgate (above left), then Law & Order.

When Adam Schiff left the show, he was going to work with Simon Wiesenthal at the Holocaust Project. In real life, Hill simply retired, his faith and acting legacy intact.

He is survived by his second wife, Rachel, and nine children, four from his first marriage.

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Mark Isenberg
Too bad so few know of Steven Hill,movie actor from The Slender Thread in 1965 with Anne Bancroft and later a small role in Garbo Talks,again with the luminous Ms.Bancroft. He did lots of early tv which little is probably on tape so go find some of the films because Law & Order reruns overwhelm some cable channels and Mr. Hill is not always remembered. He also had a stumble with those TD Waterhouse financial ads,later but he remained a good man who did not take acting too seriously and rarely did the usual tv talk shows.
Aug 24, 2016   |  Reply
Finally, an explanation why he was gone from MI. Great appreciation. The first season of MI is still the only one worth watching as the initial idea had run its course. It wasn't that Peter Graves was bad,but that Stephen Hill brought a needed dose of reality in this fantasy world. He looked like a bureaucrat,spoke sparingly,like it was another day at the office,while all of wonderkins did the dirty work-a true manager. If he couldn't sucker you in to stick around and see the world get saved this first time,no season 7,no revival,no loud Tom Cruise blow-'em ups. Add the magnificent score from Lalo Schifrin(two LPs full of goodies) and a title piece with previews and a kid could get hooked on this. Meanwhile,The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was shark jumping when it went color and I was never a Trekkie. While today I have no religious affiliation,good for Stephen Hill to stand by his beliefs. It showed on screen.
Aug 24, 2016   |  Reply
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