Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

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Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

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    Anirban Sengupta
    Anirban Senguptawrote on 12 Dec 2011

    Hardly surprising that the son of concert violinist Efrem Zimbalist Sr. (1889-1985) and opera singer Alma Gluck (1884-1938) would desire a performing career of some kind. Born in New York City in 1918 and surrounded by people of wealth and privilege throughout his childhood, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. trained at both the Yale School of Drama and the Neighborhood Playhouse, and was an NBC radio page at the onset. Following war service in which he earned a Purple Heart, director and friend of the family Garson Kanin gave the aspiring actor his first professional role in his Broadway production of "The Rugged Path" (1945) which starred Spencer Tracy. With his dark, friendly, clean-scrubbed good looks and a deep, rich voice that could cut butter, Zimbalist found little trouble finding work. He continued with the American Repertory Theatre performing in such classics as "Henry VIII" and "Androcles and the Lion" while appearing opposite the legendary Eva Le Gallienne in "Hedda Gabler". Zimbalist then tried his hand as a stage producer, successfully bringing opera to Broadway audiences for the first time with memorable presentations of "The Medium" and "The Telephone". As producer of Gian Carlo Menotti's "The Consul", he won the New York Drama Critic's Award and the Pulitzer Prize for best musical in 1950. An auspicious film debut opposite Edward G. Robinson in House of Strangers (1949) brought little career momentum due to the untimely death of his wife Emily (and mother of his two children) to cancer in 1950. Making an abrupt decision to abandon acting, he served as assistant director/researcher at the Curtis School of Music for his father and buried himself with studies and music composition. In 1954 he returned to acting and copped a daytime television soap lead. Famed director Joshua Logan was instrumental in helping Zimbalist secure a Warner Bros. contract. Despite forthright second leads in decent films such as Band of Angels (1957) with Clark Gable and Yvonne De Carlo; Too Much, Too Soon (1958) starring Dorothy Malone and Errol Flynn; A Fever in the Blood (1961) opposite Angie Dickinson and (his best) Wait Until Dark (1967) with Audrey Hepburn, it was television that made the better use of his refined, unshowy acting style. His roles as smooth private investigator Stu Bailey on "77 Sunset Strip" (1958) and dogged inspector Lewis Erskine on "The F.B.I." (1965) would be his ultimate claim to fame. A perfect gentleman on and off camera, Zimbalist's severest critics tend to deem his performances bland and undernourished. Managing to override such criticisms, he maintained a sturdy career for nearly six decades. In 1991, he made fun of his all-serious reputation and pulled off a Leslie Nielsen-like role in the comedy parody Hot Shots! (1991). In addition to theater projects over the years, he has made fine use of his mellifluous baritone performing narrations and cartoon voiceovers. In 2003, he completed his memoirs, entitled "My Dinner of Herbs". The father of three and grandfather of four, he currently lives in Santa Barbara, California with longtime second wife Stephanie. Their daughter, also named Stephanie (Stephanie Zimbalist), is the well-known actress who appeared with Pierce Brosnan in the "Remington Steele" (1982) television series.