The much loved American actor Efrem Zimbalist Junior has died at the age of 95 at his home in Solvang California, mourned by his daughter Stephanie and his son Efrem Zimbalist III. His daughter Nancy Zimbalist died in 2012 of cancer.
Efrem Zimbalist Junior was a charismatic, clever and handsome actor who dominated American television in the nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties with two long-running television detective series: – 777 Sunset Strip, which ran for seven years and FBI which ran for ten years until 1974. He was a favourite actor of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for his wholesome depiction of the Agency. He also starred in, and played key supporting roles in, many successful movies over the years as well.
Zimbalist Junior came from an extraordinarily talented musical family, but after learning violin himself as a kid, even studying for a number of years with Jascha Haitetz’s father, he turned eventually to acting, perhaps realising he did not have his own father’s musical talent or his level of commitment to music.
His father, Efrem Zimbalist Senior, was a famous international concert violinist, composer, teacher conductor and later Director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Zimbalist Senior was born in Russia and at aged nine played first violin in his Conductor father’s own orchestra before entering the Saint Petersburg Conservatory at the age of 12. He won the Rubinstein Prize and by the age of 21 was already considered one of the world’s greatest violinists. After performing in London in 1912 he then settled in the United States where he married the famous Romanian-born American soprano Alma Gluck.
Accordingly, Efrem Zimbalist Junior grew up in a home that was always full of music. He was born in New York and attended Fay School in Southborough, Massachusetts.
Zimbalist went to the University of Yale and later served in the army for five years during World War II before returning to New York and commencing an acting career.
Zimbalist Junior’s daughter Stephanie, by his second and third wife Loranda Spaulding (they divorced briefly in 1961, and remarried again a year later) also became an actress, and he played opposite her many times when she was a star in the hit series Remington Steele, where she played Laura Holt the owner of a detective agency, in tandem with future Bond star Pierce Brosnan.
But Zimbalist Junior’s own most enduring triumph was playing Inspector Lewis Erskine in the Quinn Martin production the FBI, which became the archetypical television crime series for dozens of copycats ever since.
For the ten years that it ran its seems Zimbalist Junior maintained a strong personal relationship with J. Edgar Hoover, who requested technical accuracy for the show, and also demanded that FBI agents portrayed on the show be shown in the best possible light – a form of soft propaganda that was extremely effective and helped polish Hoover’s own reputation for quiet and professional competence.
Zimbalist Junior even had to pass and FBI background check for the show, as did all its actors. After the show finished, the Society of Former Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation even honoured his character in 1985 with a set of retired FBI credentials.
Demonstrating some of the complexities of modern times, Efrem Zimbalist Senior himself was raised in a non-practicing Jewish household and would later state, “As far as I am concerned, there has been no Jew in the family for sixty-five years.”Alma and Efrem Senior even had their children baptised in the Episcopal Church and then raised them in the Christian faith.
Zimbalist Junior considered himself a man of abiding faith, and was involved in a number of Christian media productions.
Announcing the news of his death his daughter Stephanie said, “He was 95 years old, a devout Christian. He actively enjoyed his life to the last day, showering love on his extended family, playing golf, and visiting with close friends.”
A life of fulfilment and a life well lived indeed.