Steve Ihnat (August 7, 1934 – May 12, 1972) was a Czechoslovakian-born actor and director who immigrated as a child to Canada. Born Stefan Ihnat, he was raised on a farm in Lynden, Ontario. His family settled there after fleeing his native Czechoslovakia in 1939, when he was five. Ihnat, his mother, father and two young boys from other families left Czechoslovakia, three days before Prague was closed.
Ihnat became hooked on acting when he played a child role in an amateur theatre near Lynden. He said "I knew this was the only thing I wanted to do with my life." He also said "I think wanting to act started when I was about 14 as an escape valve to my environment. I was raised on a farm and I decided I wanted to be everything in life. Acting is the best way to do it."
Ihnat moved to the United States in 1958 to pursue a career in acting and attended the Pasadena Playhouse. He took out United States citizenship. At a time when he had difficulty finding work he enlisted in the US Army and spent two years and served at Hq. and Hq. U.S. Army Port Inchon, South Korea. In 1960, Pvt. Ihnat won second prize in the Republic of Korea poetry contest for his entry entitled "Toil in the Night."
Film and television career
Steve Ihnat guest-starred in several television series during the 1960s and is best known by Star Trek fans as Garth of Izar from the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Whom Gods Destroy."
Ihnat held over seventy guest star credits in such well known series as Gunsmoke ("Exodus 21:22" and "Noose of Gold"), Bonanza ("A Dream to Dream" written by Michael Landon and "Terror at 2:00" written and directed by Michael Landon), The Virginian ("Jed" and "Last Grave at Socorro Creek"), Mission: Impossible ("The Mind of Stefan Miklos"), I Dream of Jeannie ("My Master the Rainmaker"), Mannix ("End Game" and "To Catch the Lightning"), The F.B.I. ("Region of Peril" and "The Prey"), The Outer Limits ("The Inheritors"), The Name of the Game ("The Chains of Command" and "Nightmare"), Medical Center (TV series) ("Fright and Flight") and Perry Mason ("The Case of the Duplicate Case") but never achieved major fame for starring in movies or his own television series.
As an actor, he first achieved wide notice for his portrayal of a mind-controlled lieutenant in the science fiction TV series The Outer Limits. His extended speech at the end of that double episode ("The Inheritors - Part 1 and Part 2" - 1964) is one of the most affecting moments in television. Ihnat eventually became one of the most in-demand A-list guest stars of the 1960s.
Ihnat's most famous role in Mission: Impossible was that of brilliant Soviet Union investigator Stefan Miklos in the 1969 episode "The Mind of Stefan Miklos," widely praised as one of the most cerebral and intelligent episodes of the entire series. While he played other roles (mostly villains) in the show, his performance in this episode is his most memorable.
From 1964 to 1968 he appeared in eight feature films. He often played villains, using his abilities to subtly turn one-dimensional characters into complex and multi-dimensional antagonists. In 1968, he memorably portrayed a murderous thug in the film Madigan, starring Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda and a NASA administrator in the film Countdown, directed by Robert Altman and starring James Caan and Robert Duvall. Other films of note during this period included In Like Flint.
Ihnat was a screenwriter and director as well. He'd written, produced and starred in "Do Not Throw Cushions Into The Ring," which while never released, led to his receiving the plumb position of directing The Honkers starring James Coburn. He also co-wrote the movie with Stephen Lodge.
Steve Ihnat was married to Sally Carter-Ihnat who had been a Playboy Playmate of the Month in May 1962. Sally had a daughter from a previous marriage. Steve's son, Stefan, was born six weeks before Steve himself died, at the young age of thirty seven after suffering a heart attack while visiting the Cannes Film Festival in France, where he was promoting his "Do Not Throw Cushions in the Ring." On that day, Steve had been feeling unwell all day long, especially with pains in hs arm, and eventually asked for a doctor. The doctor examined him, gave him some pills, and said the French equivalent of, "Call me tomorrow if you don't feel better."
He died on his wife's 30th birthday.
Ed Asner announced his death on the Emmys telecast. Here is the text from Ed Asner's tribute:
"Steve, only 37, died on May 12, 1972, of a heart attack — while attending the Cannes Film Festival. He left his wife, Sally, a daughter and a son 6 weeks old at the time of his death.
"His picture, 'The Honkers,' starring James Coburn and directed and co-written by Steve, had just been released. His future as a moviemaker was assured and would have taken him well beyond the fame he had as an actor.
"In the winter of '68-'69 he approached me about doing a movie, to which I agreed. At this point, Steve had no script, just an idea about a newly made actor-star, his agent (me), his separated wife (his wife) and a business manager (Arthur O'Connell) and the business manager's daughter.
"We'd cruise around in his old Rolls improvising scenes for the two of us. Steve would then type these taped improvs into script form and then we'd sit about honing and refining the scenes and giving them a direction and their place in the total picture.
"The film was called 'Don't Throw Cushions in the Ring' and got Steve his start as a major director. Though slow, there are many fine things in it and I feel that Steve would always have called the picture his testament. He was at Cannes talking to potential exhibitors when he died. Since his death, I believe arrangements for exhibition in England and Europe have been concluded.
"Steve had a large ego but coupled with it were love and generosity.
"I experienced all of them and can only express amazement and envy at the response the news of his death evoked in people. The intensity of love and sorrow I've witnessed by his friends and fans is remarkable and I can only think how fortunate I was to have been there on the project he was most proud of. I hope it will suffice to say that I considered him a great actor, filmmaker and friend."
Ihnat is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. His son, Stefan, who died at age 32 from complications of diabetes, is interred next to him. They are on the same wall as Jay Flippen and Marilyn Monroe.
Sally Carter-Ihnat was married to Hollywood Squares host Peter Marshall from 1977 to 1988.