Handsome, debonair and blessed with a distinguished voice that reflected his real-life prep-school upbringing, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. seemed born to play the television roles that made him famous, that of hip Hollywood detective and brilliant G-man.
A prolific actor who also appeared in numerous films and stage productions, Zimbalist became a household name in 1958 as Stu Bailey, the wisecracking private investigator who was a co-partner in a swinging Hollywood detective agency located at the exclusive address of 77 Sunset Strip.
When the show ended in 1964, Zimbalist became an even bigger star playing the empathetic, methodical G-man Lewis Erskine in “The F.B.I.”
The actor, who in recent years had retired to his ranch in Southern California’s bucolic horse country, died there Friday at age 95.
“We are heartbroken to announce the passing into peace of our beloved father, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., today at his Solvang ranch,” the actor’s daughter Stephanie Zimbalist and son Efrem Zimbalist III said in a statement. “He actively enjoyed his life to the last day, showering love on his extended family, playing golf and visiting with close friends.”
Zimbalist’s stunning good looks and cool, deductive manner made him an instant star when 77 Sunset Strip began its six-season run in 1958.
When the show ended in 1964, Zimbalist segued seamlessly into The F.B.I. the following year and that program aired until 1974.
At the end of each episode, the series would post real photos from the F.B.I.’s most-wanted list. Some of them led to arrests, which helped give the show the complete seal of approval of the agency’s real-life director, J. Edgar Hoover.
In 2009 the F.B.I. honored Zimbalist with his own special agent’s badge, making him an honorary G-man in recognition of the contributions his show and his character made to the agency’s reputation.
A Family of Musicians
Born in New York City on Nov. 30, 1918, young Efrem – the son of violin virtuoso Efrem Zimbalist and acclaimed opera singer Alma Gluck – initially appeared headed for a musical career himself. He studied violin for seven years but eventually developed more interest in theater.
After serving in World War II, he made his stage debut in The Rugged Path, starring Spencer Tracy, and appeared in other plays and a soap opera before being called to Hollywood.
He appeared in several feature films, including Too Much Too Soon, The Chapman Report and Wait Until Dark, in which he played the husband of Audrey Hepburn’s character, a blind woman terrorized by thugs.
From Remington Steele to Batman
In 1945, Zimbalist married Emily McNair and they had a daughter, Nancy, and son, Efrem III. After his wife died in 1950, he gave up acting for a time to teach at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where his father was an artist in residence. He returned to Hollywood five years later, marrying Loranda Stephanie Spalding in 1956, and she gave birth to their daughter, Stephanie.
Stephanie also took up acting – and small-screen detective work, in the hit 1980s TV series Remington Steele. Her father had a recurring role in that show, again playing a con man.
In the 1990s, Zimbalist returned to television, recording the voice of Alfred the butler in the cartoon version of the Batman TV series. That role, he said, “has made me an idol in my little grandchildren’s eyes.”
Zimbalist was preceded in death by his second wife and by his daughter Nancy. In addition to son Efrem and daughter Stephanie, he is survived by four grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.