Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Late Great Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. died yesterday at the age of 95. He may be best known as the star of the TV shows 77 Sunset Strip and The F.B.I. He also appeared in the recurring role of Dandy Jim Buckley on Maverick and provided the voice of Alfred on Batman: The Animated Series.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. was born on 30 November 1918 in New York City. His father was Russian born violinist and composer Efrem Zimbalist Sr. His mother was Romanian born soprano Alma Gluck. His mother's family had moved to the United States while she was very young, while his father had migrated to the U.S. in 1911. He attended Fay School in Southborough, Massachusetts. He also attended Yale University, but was expelled for low grades. Afterwards he worked as a page at NBC. He studied acting at the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York City. Among his fellow students was Gregory Peck.

In 1941 Mr. Zimbalist enlisted in the United States Army and served during World War II. He was injured in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, for which he earned a Purple Heart. Following the war he returned to acting. He made his television debut in 1946 production of Mr. and Mrs. North staged by WNBT.  He made his debut on Broadway in The Rugged Path in 1947. He made further appearances on Broadway in the late Forties in productions of King Henry VIII, What Every Woman Knows, A Pound on Demand / Androcles and the Lion, The Telephone / The Medium, Hedda Gabler, The Telephone, The Medium, and The Consul. He made his movie debut in House of Strangers in 1949. In 1950 Mr. Zimbalist's wife Emily died of cancer. He ceased acting for a time to work for his father at the Curtis Institute of Music.

In the Fifties he was a regular on the short lived daytime soap opera Concerning Miss Marlowe. He played the recurring role of Dandy Jim Buckley on Maverick and starred as Stu Bailey on 77 Sunset Strip. He guest starred on such shows as Star Tonight, The Phil Silvers Show, Conflict, Sugarfoot, and The Alaskans. He appeared in the feature films Band of Angels (1957), Bombers B-52 (1957) , The Deep Six (1958), Too Much, Too Soon (1958), Home Before Dark (1958), and The Crowded Sky (1960). His 1958 feature film Girl on the Run was the first time he played Stu Bailey. It was based on a series of novels by Roy Huggins and served as the pilot for 77 Sunset Strip. Roy Huggins would also serve as the show's producer. Mr. Zimbalist also appeared on Broadway one last time, in a production of Fallen Angels in 1956.

In the Sixties Mr. Zimbalist continued to play the role of Stu Bailey on 77 Sunset Strip. In 1965 he was cast in the role of Inspector Lewis Erskine on The F. B.I. He guest starred on the shows Bronco, Hawaiian Eye, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Rawhide. He appeared in the films A Fever in the Blood (1961), By Love Possessed (1961), The Chapman Report (1962), Harlow (1965), The Reward (1965), and Wait Until Dark (1967). In the Seventies he appeared in the film Airport 1975 (1974). He appeared on the mini-series Scruples and the TV movies A Family Upside Down, Terror Out of the Sky, The Best Place to Be, and The Gathering II.

In the Eighties Efrem Zimbalist Jr. had recurring roles on the TV shows Remington Steele and Hotel. He played the regular role of Don Alejandro de la Vega on the TV show Zorro. He guest starred on such shows as Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, Hardcastle and McCormick, Partners in Crime, Cover Up, Hunter, and Who's the Boss. He appeared in the film The Avenging (1982).

In the Nineties he provided the voice of Alfred on Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures, also voicing the character for episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. He provided the voice of King Arthur in the animated series The Legend of Prince Valiant, as well as the voice of Dr. Octopus on the animated series Spider-Man and Justin Hammer in the animated series Iron Man. He guest starred on the shows Murder, She Wrote; Burke's Law; The Nanny; One West Waikiki; Picket Fences; and Babylon 5. He appeared in the films Hot Shots! (1991), Street Corner Kids (1994), and The Street Corner Kids: The Sequel (1995). He provided the voice of Alfred in the animated feature Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) and the direct to video film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998).

In the Naughts Efrem Zimbalist Jr. provided the voice of Alfred in episodes of the animated television shows Static Shock and Justice League. He also provided the voice of Alfred in the direct to video films Batman: Vengeance (2001) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003).  He appeared in the film The Delivery (2008).

Although primarily known for his acting, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. studied violin for many years. Among his compositions was an eight-part choral setting of the 150th Psalm.

While Efrem Zimbalist Jr. had the looks of a leading man, his talent was such that he could play a number of different roles. Even the characters for which he was best known were markedly different from each other. On Maverick Dandy Jim Buckley was an educated and urbane, but not particularly honest, con man and gambler. On 77 Sunset Strip Stu Bailey was a suave, refined former secret agent turned private detective. While Dandy Jim and Stu had their fair share of character flaws, Inspector Erskine on The F.B.I. was about as straight an arrow as there could be. He was very nearly stoic and almost never questioned his job or how he went about it. His role on Remington Steele brought Mr. Zimbalist full circle back to playing a con man. Steele's mentor Daniel Chalmers would have fit in quite well with Dandy Jim and Brett and Bart Maverick.

Of course, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. played far more characters than Dandy Jim, Stu Bailey, Inspector Erskine, and Daniel Chalmers. He was the voice of Alfred Pennyworth for years, and made a large number of guest appearances in television shows over the years, as well as appearances in films. As an actor he proved extremely adaptable. Indeed, he was one of the few American actors in television who could convincingly do an English accent. Even when the material was not necessarily good, Efrem Zimbaliast Jr. always delivered fine performances, regardless of what sort of character he was playing.

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