Sunday, December 27, 2009
Underrated Performer of the Week: Arthur Hill
Throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s, Hill appeared regularly as a guest star in television series like The Fugitive, Route 66, The Invaders, and Mission: Impossible. He was in multiple episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The F.B.I., and The Name of the Game. His guest stint in the lawyer series The Defenders and Judd for the Defense foreshadowed his most famous TV role.
In 1971, Arthur Hill played the lead in the two-hour TV movie Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law. The resulting TV series ran on ABC from 1971-1974 and starred Hill as a compassionate, intelligent lawyer whose cases ranged from civil rights to murder. Lee Majors, David Soul, and (briefly) Reni Santoni each played Marshall’s assistant at various stages of the show’s run. The series performed modestly in the ratings, despite four “crossover episodes” with the much more successful Marcus Welby, M.D. (produced by the same company). The 1971 episode “Eulogy for a Wide Receiver” was directed by a young Steven Spielberg. Despite good reviews, even from the legal profession, Owen Marshall never captured the public’s fancy.
Hill’s most famous film role also came in 1971, when he starred as the head of a team of scientists trying to combat The Andromeda Strain (click on the title to read a film review). His other major film credits include Harper with Paul Newman, The Ugly American with Marlon Brando, and Sam Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite.
After the cancellation of Owen Marshall, he focused on television, where he continued to be in demand as a guest star and for lead roles in made-for-TV movies. He gave outstanding performances as a judge fighting racial prejudice in the fact-based Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys (1976) and as Robby Benson’s father in Death Be Not Proud (1975), a moving true story of a young man dying of a brain tumor.
Arthur Hill was married twice. His first wife, Peggy Hassard, died in 1996. He was survived by his second wife, Anne-Sophie Taraba. Hill died in 2006 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.