Adam Schiff on "Law and Order"
Jewish Name - Solomon Krakovsky
Steven Hill (born February 24, 1922) is a
Jewish 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 CBS's television series Mission:
Impossible, whom he portrayed only in the initial season of the show
Early life and career
Steven Hill was born Solomon Krakovsky in Seattle, Washington.
After serving four years in the Naval Reserve, Steven 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. Steven Hill says
his big break came when he landed a small part in the hit Broadway
show Mister Roberts. "The director, Joshua Logan, thought I had
some ability, and he let me create one of the scenes," says Steven
Hill. "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." Steven Hill said this was a thrilling time in his
life when, fresh out of the service, he played the hapless sailor
Stefanowski. "You could almost smell it from the very first
reading that took place; this is going to be an overwhelming hit,"
said Steven Hill. "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."
In 1947, Steven Hill became a founding member of Lee Strasberg's
Actors Studio alongside such other actors as Marlon Brando,
Montgomery Clift, and Julie Harris.
Steven Hill made his film debut in 1950 in Lady Without a
Passport. He then re-enlisted in the Navy in 1952 for two years
and, when he completed his service, resumed his acting in
earnest. Strasberg later said, "Steven Hill is considered one of
the finest actors America has ever produced". When he was
starting out as an actor, Steven Hill sought out roles that had a
social purpose. "Later, I learned that show business is about
entertaining," he says. "So, I've had to reconcile my idealistic
feelings with reality".
Steven 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. "When I first became an
actor, there were two young actors in New York: Marlon Brando and
Steven Hill," said Martin Landau. "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".
In 1961, Steven Hill had an unusual experience when he appeared as
Sigmund Freud on Broadway in Henry Denker's A Far Country,
portraying Freud at the age of 35. On April 12, 1961, Steven Hill
was stricken with a virus the night of a sold-out performance for
the Masters Children's Center of Dobbs Ferry. As a result, the
producers decided to cancel the performance just as the curtain was
about to go up. Among the notables in the audience were Joseph P.
Kennedy, Jack Benny, and Richard Rodgers. The audience was
invited to exchange its ticket stubs for other performances. The
understudy was not ready to replace Steven Hill, so Alfred Ryder,
the play's director, stepped into the role of Freud for one
Steven Hill guested in the original Robert Stack series The
Untouchables episode: 'Jack 'Legs' Diamond' as the title gangster
character giving a compelling cold evil performance, and a similar
sinister role as a confined to bed (following an accident) ruthless
manipulative millionaire in 'The White Knight' a 1966 black & white
third season episode of The Fugitive, starring David Janssen.
Steven Hill's early screen credits include The Goddess and A Child
Steven 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 Steven Hill's advance warnings, the show's
producers were unprepared for his rigid adherence to the Sabbath,
and on at least one occasion Steven 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 Steven 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
(Martin 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."
Steven 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, though Landau's
'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. This incident was unrelated to any
religious observances of Steven Hill's. Consequently, Steven 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. Steven Hill was not asked to return for season
2, and was replaced as the show's star by Peter Graves. No
onscreen explanation was ever given regarding Dan Briggs' later
absence from the series. Steven Hill was however featured
prominently as Dan Briggs in around 17 or so of the first season
Hiatus and return to acting
After appearing in Mission: Impossible, Steven Hill did no acting
work for the following ten years. Steven Hill had what he calls
"tremendous periods of unemployment" in his career. "What we have
here is a story of profound instability and impermanence," he said
of his own career. "This is what you learn at the beginning in
show business; then it gets planted in you forever". Steven Hill
left acting in 1967 and moved to a
Jewish community in Rockland County, New York where he worked in
writing and real estate. Patrick J. White, in The Complete
"Mission: Impossible" Dossier, quoted Steven 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." 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."
Steven 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), and Billy Bathgate (1991). Steven Hill also appeared as a
mob kingpin in Raw Deal (1986), an action vehicle for Arnold
Law & Order
Steven 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).
Steven Hill's character is loosely modeled after the real former
district attorney of New York, Robert Morgenthau and it is
reported that Morgenthau was a fan of the character. Steven
Hill says playing Adam Schiff is the hardest role he's ever had
because of all the legal jargon he has to learn. "It's like
acting in a second language," says Steven Hill. Steven Hill adds
that he agrees with the show's philosophy. "There's a certain
positive statement in this show," Steven Hill says. "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."
Steven Hill earned another Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor
In a Dramatic Series in 1997. At the time of his departure, Steven
Hill was the longest-serving cast member. Along with Law & Order
castmate Sam Waterston, Steven Hill has also appeared in commercials
for T.D. Waterhouse, an investment brokerage.
Steven Hill and his first wife, Selma Stern, were married in 1951
and had four children before divorcing in 1964. Steven Hill married
his second wife, Rachel, in 1967 and they have five children.
Appearing in the play A Far Country in 1961 had a profound effect on
Steven Hill's later life. In one scene, a patient screams at Freud,
"You are a Jew!" This caused Steven Hill to think about his
religion. "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." He was inspired by Rabbi Yakov
Yosef Twersky (1900–68), the late Skverrer Rebbe, 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. This made Steven 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.
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