|Steven Hill as DA Adam Schiff on the hit series, Law and Order|
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, N.Y., a hamlet in Rockland County.
Mr. Hill was 44 and a veteran stage and television actor in 1966 when he was cast as Daniel Briggs, the 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’s six-season run as the show’s lead.
Even decades later, Mr. 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 Mr. Hill was dismissed and learned the news only when he read a Daily Variety announcement that Mr. Graves was being hired.
According to Mr. White, Mr. 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 Mr. White’s book, Mr. 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, Mr. Hill took on the role of the district attorney Adam Schiff on a new cops-and-lawyers series based in New York, “Law & Order.” He played the role, said to be modeled on the long-serving Manhattan district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, from 1990 to 2000.
In a 1996 interview with The Washington Post, Dick Wolf, the creator of “Law & Order,” called Mr. Hill “the Talmudic influence on the entire zeitgeist of the series.”
“Steven has more moral authority than anyone else on episodic TV,” Mr. Wolf said.
Steven Hill was born Solomon Krakowsky on Feb. 24, 1922, in Seattle, the son of a furniture-store owner. He graduated from the University of Washington and at first moved to Chicago to work in radio.
He soon moved to New York and did frequent stage work in his early years there, making his Broadway debut in a small role in “A Flag Is Born” (1946), a pageantlike production written by Ben Hecht, with music by Kurt Weill, that starred Paul Muni and advocated the creation of the state of Israel.
In 1948, Mr. Hill played a sailor in the Tony Award-winning wartime comedy “Mr. Roberts,” which starred Henry Fonda. “It was a thrilling time in my life,” Mr. Hill told The New York Times in 2005.
“You could almost smell it from the very first reading that took place — this is going to be an overwhelming hit.”
Two years later Mr. Hill played Bernie Dodd, the stage director who tries to help a washed-up alcoholic actor, in Clifford Odets’s drama “The Country Girl,” with Uta Hagen and Paul Kelly.
Mr. Hill worked in the very early years of television, beginning in 1949 with four episodes of the series “Actors Studio.” (He was a charter member of the prestigious organization that gave its name to the show.) He made his film debut in 1950 in “A Lady Without Passport,” a crime noir, starring Hedy Lamarr, about a smuggling ring in Cuba.
Mr. Hill gave up acting from 1967 to 1977 and, in the interim, took a variety of jobs, including real estate sales. When he returned to show business, he was welcomed back and appeared in a string of 16 feature films in the ’80s. They included the romantic comedy “It’s My Turn” (1980); the women’s-film remake of “Rich and Famous” (1981); Barbra Streisand’s “Yentl” (1983); Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” (1986); and “Running on Empty” (1988), in which he played the estranged father of a former student radical (Christine Lahti) living underground.
He continued his film career for a while, appearing in “White Palace” (1990), “Billy Bathgate” (1991) and “The Firm” (1993). But his final screen appearances were as Schiff on “Law & Order.”
Mr. Hill married Selma Stern in 1951, and they had four children. The couple divorced in 1964. He and his second wife, the former Rachel Schenker, were married in 1967 and had five children. She survives him.
Besides his wife and his daughter Ms. Gobioff, he is survived by three more daughters, Betsy Hill, Pamela Hill and Hanna Hendler; five sons, John, Matthew, Jacob, Joshua and Samuel; a sister, Joan Weiss; a brother, Charles Hill; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Mr. Hill summed up his long career, not necessarily with regrets but with a clear eye, in a 1996 interview with The Times. “What we have here is a story of profound instability and impermanence,” he said. “This is what you learn at the beginning in show business; then it gets planted in you forever.”