Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (November 30, 1918 – May 2, 2014) was an American actor known for his starring roles in the television series 77 Sunset Strip and The F.B.I.
He is also known as recurring character “Dandy Jim Buckley” in the series Maverick and as the voice behind the character Alfred Pennyworth in Batman: The Animated Series and associated spin-offs. He also voiced Doctor Octopus from the 1990s Spider-Man animated series, and Justin Hammer from the second season of 1994 Iron Man animated series.
Zimbalist was born in New York, New York, the son of Jewish parents—Russian-born violinist Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. and Romanian-born operatic soprano Alma Gluck. His stepmother was Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist, the founder of the Curtis Institute of Music. He attended Fay School in Southborough, Massachusetts.
Zimbalist attended Yale University in the late 1930s, worked as a page for NBC radio in New York, and served in the United States Army for five years during World War II, where he became friends with Garson Kanin. He was awarded the Purple Heart for a leg wound received during the battle of Hürtgen Forest.
Following the war, Zimbalist returned to New York and made his Broadway acting debut in The Rugged Path, starring Spencer Tracy. This led to a stage career as both an actor and producer. His producing successes included bringing three Gian Carlo Menotti operas to Broadway, one of which, The Consul, won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1950.
In 1954–1955 he co-starred in his first television series, Concerning Miss Marlowe.
In 1956, Zimbalist was put under contract by Warner Bros. and moved to Hollywood.
Zimbalist’s first recurring role in a Warner Bros. Television series was as roguish gambler “Dandy Jim Buckley” on Maverick, opposite James Garner in 1957, and making five appearances as the character.
In 1958, Zimbalist played the co-lead Stuart “Stu” Bailey in 77 Sunset Strip, a popular detective series running until 1964. During this period, he made several concurrent appearances in other Warner Bros. television shows, such as Hawaiian Eye, The Alaskans, and Bronco.
He also starred as the lead in several feature films for Warners, such as Bombers B-52, The Deep Six, A Fever in the Blood, and The Chapman Report. Zimbalist was in such demand that he was given leave by Jack Warner due to exhaustion from his busy schedule.
Jack Warner lent him to Columbia Pictures for By Love Possessed in exchange for adding several years to his Warners’ contract, but refused to let him make BUtterfield 8 for MGM.
In 1959, he was awarded the Golden Globe for “Most Promising Newcomer – Male”.
Efrem Zimbalist married his first wife, Emily Munroe McNair, in 1945. She died of cancer five years later in 1950. Zimbalist’s second marriage was to Loranda Stephanie Spaulding in 1956. She died of lung cancer on February 5, 2007, at the age of 73.
Zimbalist was the father of Efrem Zimbalist III and Nancy Zimbalist by Emily McNair, and actress Stephanie Zimbalist by Stephanie Spaulding.
Zimbalist considered himself to be a man of abiding faith and was involved in a number of Christian media productions. His parents, Alma Gluck and Efrem Zimbalist, Sr., were assimilated non-practicing Jews who rejected their Jewish heritage. Efrem Sr. was raised in a non-practicing household and later stated, “As far as I am concerned, there has been no Jew in the family for sixty-five years.”
Alma and Efrem Sr. had their children baptized Christians in the Episcopal Church and raised them in that church. Efrem Jr. stated that he was taken to church every Sunday and attended St. Paul’s School, an Episcopal boarding school in New Hampshire. He also attended church every Sunday with his first wife, and it was his faith which allowed him peace when she succumbed to cancer.
A spiritual pilgrim, Zimbalist was an early practitioner and proponent of Transcendental Meditation, as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He described the Maharishi Yogi as a “fascinating character”, but found that his nine-year association with the meditation method “… was a total waste of energy for me.”
He returned to the Episcopal Church for a time. In the late 1970s, Zimbalist was drawn to the Charismatic Christianity that he found on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN).
Efrem’s face and voice have appeared on scores of TBN announcements, including the station identification at the top of every hour. In a five-minute segment called “The Word” which aired on TBN at 25 after the hour, Zimbalist read through the entire Bible, verse by verse; later these segments appeared in interludes and station breaks on TBN.
He told a reporter in 1989, “for a while I did go overboard in my association with a fundamentalist group”, but never made a verbal association with any ministry. As of July 2014, his voice is still used as a TBN network identification. Eventually, he resumed active participation in the Episcopal Church, feeling comfortable with that denominational style.
In 1963 and 1964, Zimbalist joined fellow actors William Lundigan, Chill Wills, and Walter Brennan in making appearances on behalf of U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate, in his election campaign against U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Zimbalist died on May 2, 2014 from natural causes at the age of 95. His daughter Stephanie announced the news, saying, “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.”
His interment was at Town Hill Cemetery in New Hartford, Connecticut, near his parents.