Law & Order's Steven Hill known to be difficult

NEW YORK • Steven Hill, who originated imposing lead roles on two notable television series, Mission: Impossible in the 1960s and Law & Order in the 1990s, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. He was 94.

His daughter, Sarah Gobioff, confirmed his death.

He lived in Monsey, New York, a hamlet in Rockland County.

He was 44 and a veteran stage and television actor in 1966 when he was cast as Daniel Briggs, leader of an elite covert-operations unit, in the new series Mission: Impossible. But he left after the first season, paving the way for Peter Graves' six-season run as the show's lead.

Even decades later, Hill declined to discuss his reasons for leaving the series, other than to say that the first season had been a bad experience.

Other sources, including Patrick J. White, author of a book on the series, The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier, said Hill was dismissed and learnt the news only when he read a Daily Variety announcement that Graves was being hired.

According to White, Hill had developed a reputation for being difficult. His refusal to work late on Fridays because of his observance of the Jewish Sabbath was also reported to be a problem.

In White's book, Hill's co-star Martin Landau is quoted as saying: "I felt he was digging his own grave."

Almost a quarter-century after that experience, Hill took on the role of the stern, seemingly imperturbable district attorney Adam Schiff on a new cops-and-lawyers series based in New York, Law & Order.

He played the role, said to be modelled on long-serving Manhattan district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, from 1990 to 2000.

In a 1996 interview with The Washington Post, Dick Wolf, creator of Law & Order, called Hill "the Talmudic influence on the entire zeitgeist of the series".

"Steven has more moral authority than anyone else on episodic TV," Wolf said.

Hill and Mr Morgenthau often met during the Law & Order years and talked about what the character should do in certain situations.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr Morgenthau said that after Hill had heard the advice, "he'd say, 'I guess I've got to be a lot tougher.'"

Mr Morgenthau recalled his reaction when he learnt that Hill was earning US$25,000 an episode. "I used to tell him, 'Steven, when you're ready to retire, let me know. I want your job.'"

Born Solomon Krakowsky in Seattle, he worked in the very early years of television, beginning in 1949 with four episodes of the series Actors Studio. He gave up acting from 1967 to 1977. On his return, he appeared in films including Yentl (1983), Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986) and White Palace (1990).

But his final screen appearances were as Schiff on Law & Order. He is survived by his second wife and nine children.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Law & Order's Steven Hill known to be difficult'. Subscribe