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Overview for Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.



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Also Known As: Died:
Born: November 30, 1918 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: New York City, New York, USA Profession: Cast ... actor producer


One of the most sophisticated and professional actors of the small screen, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. rose to fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s on the strength of two popular television series: "77 Sunset Strip" (ABC, 1958-1964) and "The FBI" (ABC, 1965-1974). Tall, well spoken and always impeccable in dress and manner, Zimbalist was the epitome of the confident, competent professional man of the period, who viewed each challenge with determination and the occasional wry quip. Both shows would represent the high points of his acting career, but their success would allow him to work at an astonishing rate for the next four decades in television, including a lengthy stint as a voiceover artist in his eighth and ninth decades. A highly admired holdover from the Golden Age of American television, Zimbalist's carriage and talent kept him both active and appreciated, a legacy that most actors would have considered the perfect final act of their careers. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. died at the age of 95, staying active until the very end; his obituaries mentioned that he was watering the lawn at home at the time he died.

Born in New York City on Nov. 30, 1918, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. was the only male scion of a well-known performing family. His father, Efrem Zimbalist, Sr., was a noted concert violinist and composer, while his mother, Anna Gluck, was among the most famous vocalists of the early 20th century, and the first artist to record a song that sold over a million copies. Zimbalist, Jr. received a stellar education, including a brief stint at Yale University at the age of 16. He later became a radio page at NBC before enlisting in the Army during World War II. After earning a Purple Heart in combat, Zimbalist returned to the United States and studied acting at both the Yale School of Drama and the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Family friend Garson Kanin gave him his first professional role in the Broadway production of "The Rugged Path" opposite no less than Spencer Tracy.

Blessed with matinee idol looks and a deep, mellifluous voice, he soon became a star of the New York stage, appearing in classic works with the American Repertory Theater. In 1949, he made his feature film debut in "House of Strangers" as Richard Conte's thuggish brother, but found few projects worth undertaking. Zimbalist returned to the theater and began producing at the end of the 1940s, bringing such acclaimed modern operas as Gian Carlo Menotti's Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Consul" (1950) to American audiences. In 1950, Zimbalist's first wife, actress Emily McNair, died of cancer, and he retired from acting to mourn her death and support their two children. For a time, he worked as an assistant director and researcher with his father at the Curtis School of Music, but he returned to acting in 1954 with a minor role on the daytime soap opera "Concerning Miss Marlowe" (NBC 1953-55).

Friendships with director Josh Logan and studio chief Jack L. Warner, who was Zimbalist's tennis partner, helped him to secure a contract at Warner Bros., and he soon embarked on a series of supporting turns in dramas like "Band of Angels" (1957) with Clark Gable and Sidney Poitier and "Too Much, Too Soon" (1958) as the first husband of the ill-fated actress Diana Barrymore, daughter of the Barrymore dynasty. However, television would prove his best showcase, beginning in 1958 with "77 Sunset Strip." Zimbalist starred as former government agent-turned-private detective Stuart "Stu" Bailey, who operated an agency with Roger Smith's Jeff Spencer at the eponymous and ultra-hip address. Though Zimbalist and Smith were ostensibly the show's leads, it was Edd Byrnes as beatnik parking lot attendant Kookie that captured audiences' imaginations. The show's breezy tone and the trio of attractive leads made it a must-see for the majority of its network run. However, its popularity waned significantly during its final season, and the entire cast, sans Zimbalist, was let go; an attempt to re-build the program around Stu Bailey was met with disinterest, and ABC canceled "77 Sunset Strip" in the middle of its sixth season in 1964.

During this period, Zimbalist made numerous appearances on other programs filmed on the Warner lot, including "Maverick" (ABC, 1957-1962), which cast him in a recurring role as amoral con artist Dandy Jim Buckley, and "Hawaiian Eye" (ABC, 1959-1963), a sister program to "77 Sunset Strip," which featured frequent cross-over appearances between the two shows' casts. In 1965, he returned to network series work with "The F.B.I." Sponsored by the Ford Motor Company, which accounted for the abundance of its vehicles on screen, the series featured Zimbalist as the unflappable Inspector Lewis Erskine, who tracked down spies, Communists, radicals and gangsters for the government without ever appearing to break a sweat. Zimbalist's cool, polished demeanor and open support for Republican candidates like Barry Goldwater made him the ideal actor to represent the agency's ultra-conservative image, as well as that of its director, J. Edgar Hoover, who served as the show's advisor until his death in 1974. Despite his image, Zimbalist spent part of the 1960s studying Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi before moving to the more dramatic Charismatic Christian doctrine in the 1970s.

As with "77 Sunset Strip," Zimbalist's duties on "The F.B.I." comprised most of his work during the late '60s and early 1970s, though there were occasional forays into features and other shows, most notably as the boyfriend to a blind Audrey Hepburn in Terence Young's "Wait Until Dark" (1967). When "The F.B.I." left the air in 1974, Zimbalist parlayed his popularity with viewers into a string of appearances in TV movies and features, including "Airport 1975" (1974) as an airline pilot blinded in the collision between a commercial jet and a private plane. He remained a rugged leading man well into his sixth and seventh decades, as evidenced by his turn in the sudsy miniseries "Scruples" (CBS, 1980) as a wealthy industrialist who romances a jet-setting Lindsay Wagner.

In the 1980s, Zimbalist worked extensively in episodic television, most notably in a recurring role on "Remington Steele" (NBC, 1982-87) opposite his daughter, actress Stephanie Zimbalist. The 1990s saw him move into voiceover work for animated shows and specials, including a long-running stint as Bruce Wayne's loyal butler, Alfred, on "Batman: The Animated Series" (Fox, 1992-95). Zimbalist was also a frequent guest on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, where he provided dramatic Biblical readings and hosted his own program, "Word from the Holyland."

Like many older actors, Zimbalist relished the opportunity to spoof his own image for the Zucker Brothers in "Hot Shots!" (1991), appearing as a villainous aviation tycoon. In 2004, Zimbalist completed his autobiography, My Dinner of Herbs, which was noted for its remarkable lack of Hollywood gossip. In subsequent years, he gradually moved away from acting, though he returned to the screen as a professor aiding a young girl in the short "The Delivery" (2008), which was well received at numerous film festivals. The following year, Zimbalist was presented with a plaque of an honorary special agent by F.B.I. director Robert Mueller for his collaboration with the agency during his time on "The F.B.I." He died at the age of 95 on May 2, 2014 at his ranch in Solvang, California.

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