Steven Hill, the first star of Mission: Impossible, has died at 94, according to an obituary in The New York Times.
Hill enjoyed a long acting career, including a 10-year stint on Law And Order as D.A. Adam Schiff.
For fans of the spy genre, Hill’s one season as Dan Briggs, team leader of the Impossible Missions Force, is a huge “what if?”
As noted in The Times’ obituary, Hill did not work late on Fridays (standard operating procedure at the time on most series) in observance of the Jewish sabbath. It’s also discussed in detail in Patrick J. White’s 1991 book on the series.
Mission: Impossible had the longest run, seven seasons, of the 1960s spy shows in the U.S. But Hill would only be around for the first.
The audience knew little of Briggs. In the pilot episode, written by Bruce Geller, we’re told he had been away from the IMF for some period. In another episode, we see Briggs was a friend of a high school principal. Mobsters kidnap the principal’s daughter to try to get leverage on Briggs.
The IMF leader could be quietly ruthless. For example, there’s the end of the episode Operation: Rogosh. The IMF has pulled a con on an enemy agent, who is driven away by officials of his government. Barney Collier muses (Greg Morris) muses, “I’m sorry we had to let a man like Rogosh live.”
“We didn’t,” Briggs replies.
As time went on, Hill’s Briggs got less screen time. One beneficiary was Martin Landau, whose Rollin Hand character took on more importance. The other was Peter Graves, hired to replace Hill, starting with the second season.
One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Hill’s Briggs lasted the whole series. Regardless, Hill is being remembered as an excellent actor for other roles.