With the recent passing of Peter Graves, who had become famous and best remembered for acting in the lead role in the very popular hit television series Mission Impossible, my thoughts turned instead to another actor, Steven Hill, who propelled that series into its massive popularity but was never properly rewarded for his great contributions to that show’s success.
I was never a fan of Peter Graves, and became less so when I learned that his greatest accomplishment was earned at the expense of another actor, who was very horribly mistreated. On the Mission Impossible show the original group leader was a character called Dan Briggs as portrayed by Steven Hill. Hill, best known as the character Adam Schiff on Law and Order, is an Orthodox Jew who made it known to the show’s producers that he would not work on the Sabbath, Saturday. Apparently they could not accept his actually adhering to this and Hill, despite great reviews and being the key actor on a huge hit, was fired after one season and did not work again for a decade. Interestingly years later , a Christian, but Seventh Day Adventist, who similarly celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday and would not work that day, was accommodated by the producers of Amen.
While it would not be fair to blame Graves for the unfairness visited upon Hill, I have always had contempt for the man, because in interviews he had always claimed ignorance of the reason the lead actor in an immensely popular show was replaced to make way for his rise to prominence. It is just hard to believe he never learned of, nor had the curiosity to inquire concerning the facts of the circumstance, that resulted in the role that would lead to his success in show business.
Lee Strasberg often said of him that Steven Hill was, “one of the finest actors America has ever produced”. And Mission co-star Martin Landau, said that in the early 50s, that there were two brilliant young actors in New York, Brando and Steven Hill, and that most felt that Steven would be the one to go on to greatness. Hill was able to recover and eventually prosper, but it should have been a career much greater than it has been.