Arthur Hill; Actor Won Tony for 'Virginia Woolf'

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2006

Arthur Hill, 84, a versatile actor who won a Tony Award as the tormented George opposite Uta Hagen in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and was a scientist battling a deadly alien virus in the film "The Andromeda Strain" and a small-town lawyer in the television series "Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law," died Oct. 22 at an assisted-living center in Pacific Palisades, Calif. He had Alzheimer's disease.

With deep, sympathetic eyes and a soft voice, Mr. Hill was expert at portraying the thoughtful everyman facing emotional crisis. His initial acclaim was for stage work on Broadway in the 1950s.

He scored rave reviews in Thornton Wilder's "The Matchmaker," as a lovelorn shop clerk opposite Ruth Gordon, and in "All the Way Home," as the ill-fated father in an adaptation of James Agee's "A Death in the Family."

Mr. Hill's most famous stage part was in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1962), which he once thought of abandoning. "When I found out they were not going to cut the script and planned no out-of-town tryouts, I thought I was in the hands of lunatics," he said. "I fought to get out. Fortunately, I didn't."

The play, about a destructive and delusional couple at a small college, was a sensation because of its raw language and wrenching performances. The show took nearly all of the major 1963 Tony Awards, and Mr. Hill was praised by critic Howard Taubman of the New York Times for his "superbly modulated performance built on restraint as a foil to Miss Hagen's explosiveness."

Mr. Hill was overlooked for the film version, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton taking the leading roles. Nevertheless, Mr. Hill made dozens of film appearances, although seldom as a leading character.

Among the meaty exceptions were "Moment to Moment" (1965) as the neglectful psychiatrist husband of Jean Seberg; "Harper" (1966), as a square, white-collar lawyer hiding a secret; and "The Andromeda Strain" (1971), based on the Michael Crichton novel.

He had secondary parts in "The Ugly American," "Rabbit, Run," "The Killer Elite," "A Bridge Too Far" and "Futureworld" and was the off-screen narrator in "Something Wicked This Way Comes."

On television, Mr. Hill was prolific. He starred on the ABC legal drama "Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law" from 1971 to 1974 and appeared in countless series, including "The Defenders," "Marcus Welby, M.D." and "Murder, She Wrote." He and Jane Alexander played the parents of a child with a brain tumor in the 1975 television film "Death Be Not Proud."

"Acting is a healthy profession if you know what you're doing," Mr. Hill once said. "An actor has a license to fantasize as a child. But when you're finished, you go back to reality."

Arthur Edward Spence Hill was born Aug. 1, 1922, in Melfort, a Saskatchewan town where his father practiced law. During World War II, he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as an airplane mechanic. He then finished his undergraduate education at the University of British Columbia and briefly (and, he said, glumly) studied law before deciding on an acting career.

He toured Canada in a troupe before settling in England in 1948 to advance his career. He had an unbilled part in the Cary Grant-Ann Sheridan comedy "I Was a Male War Bride" (1949) and small parts in films by the prolific British director Val Guest ("The Body Said No!," "Mister Drake's Duck," "Life with the Lyons").

On stage in London, Mr. Hill had the leading role in a revival of the Elliott Nugent-James Thurber comedy "The Male Animal" -- the first of many professorial parts. He also appeared in works by George Bernard Shaw ("Man and Superman") and Clifford Odets ("The Country Girl") before debuting on Broadway in "The Matchmaker" in 1955.

He followed a long national tour of "The Matchmaker" with "Look Homeward, Angel," a Broadway play based on Thomas Wolfe's autobiographical novel. He played the dying older brother of the main character. He also showed flair as an aide to a corrupt president in Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's political drama "The Gang's All Here."

After his peak in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" he starred with Barbara Cook in the short-lived musical "Something More!" (1964), about an American writer transplanted to Italy.

His final Broadway performance was in Eugene O'Neill's "More Stately Mansions" (1967), a critical dud despite a cast that included Ingrid Bergman and Colleen Dewhurst as Hill's possessive mother and wife, respectively.

His first wife, Peggy Hassard Hill, died in the late 1980s. A daughter from that marriage also died.

Survivors include his wife, Anne-Sophie Taraba Hill of Century City, Calif.; a son from his first marriage; a stepchild; two sisters; and a granddaughter.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company