Star of Two Early TV Series, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Dead at 95


7:21 PM PDT 5/2/2014

by Mike Barnes, Duane Byrg

The Hollywood Reporter
Efrem Zimbalist Jr OBIT - P 2014
Everett Collection

UPDATE: He was the embodiment of a federal agent on “The F.B.I.” after playing a private eye on another popular ABC series, “77 Sunset Strip.”

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., the suave leading man who starred on ABC for 15 straight seasons on 77 Sunset Strip and then The F.B.I., died Friday at his ranch in Solvang, Calif., his children announced. He was 95.

Zimbalist was a household name from 1958 through 1974 for his performances as dapper private eye Stuart Bailey on Friday night staple 77 Sunset Strip, which lasted six seasons, and as Inspector Lewis Erskine on The F.B.I., which ran for nine.

A close friend of then-FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, Zimbalist ended many Quinn Martin productions on Sunday nights with a description of a fugitive wanted by the feds, exhorting viewers to be on the lookout. One of the more prominent names from this segment was James Earl Ray, assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Efrem’s character embodied fidelity, bravery and integrity. So much so that he inspired a generation of future FBI employees, many of whom pursued a career in the bureau because they watched The F.B.I. series as they grew up,” FBI director Robert Mueller said when he presented an honorary Special Agent badge to Zimbalist in 2009. “In those days, he may well have been the bureau’s best and most effective recruiter!”

The son of renowned artists — soprano Alma Gluck and violinist Efrem Zimbalist — he was the father of actress Stephanie Zimbalist, who survives him. As the sly, silver-haired mentor ofPierce Brosnan’s title character on Remington Steele, he appeared on the 1982-87 NBC series with his daughter on a handful of episodes.

In a career that spanned roughly 60 years, Zimbalist provided the voices of Alfred the Butler on several Batman animated series, the villain Doc Octopus on a Spider-Man cartoon and King Arthur on The Legend of Prince Valiant. He had recurring roles on Maverick in the 1950s, Hotel in the ’80s and Zorro in the ’90s.

In Wait Until Dark (1967), he played the photographer husband of the blind Audrey Hepburn.

Zimbalist was born on Nov. 30, 1918, in New York and raised in a home of artistry and privilege. His father was a friend of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and young Zimbalist received violin lessons from the father of Jascha Heifetz.

Later, he studied at the Yale Drama School and the Neighborhood Playhouse, then served in World War II and earned a Purple Heart.

Zimbalist began his career as an NBC page but soon found work in the theater and was cast in the 1945 Broadway production of The Rugged Path, which starred Spencer Tracy and was directed byGarson Kanin. Zimbalist’s rich baritone and striking manner won notice, and he landed plum roles in Henry VIII in 1946 and Hedda Gabler in 1948.

Restless waiting for roles, Zimbalist ventured into producing. He brought opera to Broadway, mounting such productions as The Medium, The Telephone and The Consul, which won a Pulitzer Prize.

Zimbalist made an impressive movie debut in 1949, co-starring in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s House of Strangers, which starred Edward G. Robinson as a tight-fisted family patriarch. But he experienced personal tragedy the following year: his wife Emily died of cancer, and he gave up acting.

During the subsequent five years, Zimbalist worked at the Curtis School of Music for his father. In 1954, he took a lead in a daytime soap opera, and, ready to act in the movies again, signed a seven-year contract with Warner Bros. (Later, he would be invited to play tennis at studio head Jack Warner’s Beverly Hills home every weekend.)

Zimbalist was cast in Band of Angels (1957) with Clark Gable; in the Barrymore family drama Too Much, Too Soon (1958) with Errol Flynn and Dorothy Malone; and in Mervyn LeRoy’s Home Before Dark (1958) with Jean Simmons; he called the latter his favorite film experience.

While he was winning popularity and acclaim for these roles, Zimbalist also was starting out in the Warner Bros. TV series 77 Sunset Strip, which was created by Roy Huggins (The Fugitive). It centered on a swinging ’60s Hollywood detective agency run by Bailey and his partner Jeff Spencer (Roger Smith).



  1. R.I.P.

    Since The F.B.I. ended he disappeared from the public eye. Most young people never heard of him. Many TV shows from the 1950’s to the 1960’s have been rebroadcasted endlessly on retro TV like MeTV but they never show The FBI. Even though the show ran for nine years, why has it not be re-broadcasted?


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