Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who portrayed stalwart heroes in 77 Sunset Strip and The FBI, has died at 95, according to an obituary at the DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEBSITE.
Between the two shows, Zimbalist had a starring role on U.S. television for 15 out of 16 years from 1958 to 1974. He stayed busy with character roles afterward, including a recurring part on Remington Steele, with his daughter Stephanie Zimbalist and Pierce Brosnan. He also voiced Alfred the Butler in Batman cartoons beginning in 1992 and lasting into the early 21st century.
In 77 Sunset Strip, Zimbalist played former OSS agent Stuart Bailey, who ran a private detective agency. It was an early hit on television for Warner Bros. The first five seasons included a snappy theme song and a mostly lighter take on the proceedings. The sixth, and final, season had a drastic makeover where Zimbalist was the only cast member retained.
Zimbalist was back in television in 1965, with The FBI. He played Inspector Lewis Erskine, the bureau’s top investigator. It would run for nine seasons and be the long-running series by producer Quinn Martin. The show featured a good many espionage-related stories in its early seasons, though that tailed off over time. By the seventh season (the most recent released on DVD), there were only three such stories.
77 Sunset Strip featured a lot of fast-paced banter between Zimbalist’s Bailey and the other detectives in the agency. Zimbalist’s Erskine, by contrast, was stern much of the time. In the earliest episodes, Erskine is still tormented how his wife “took a bullet meant for me.” He had a daughter in college (Lynn Loring) who wanted to marry his FBI associate, something that did not make Erskine happy. The angle was dropped before the end of the first season.
In AN INTERVIEW WITH DVD TALK, Zimbalist reflected on the two series.
EZ: It’s interesting, the two shows: the audiences were very different. First of all, they were different in time. But 77 Sunset Strip was a universally popular series. I mean, everybody loved it; it was the favorite. The F.B.I., because of the nature of the F.B.I. itself, because of the conditions in the world at the time, of the Sixties and so forth, [the public] was sharply divided. A lot of people were on the F.B.I.’s side, and a lot of people were not. We had that to contend with; we didn’t have the universal audience put in our lap the way we had with the other series.
He also offered up this summation of his career:
I would say that I was a very lucky actor who came into very lucky times, and got to Hollywood, and was put under contract by Warners in the very last days of the studio contract era, and was privileged to go through that time which is gone now. I mean, people produce from the back of a pick-up truck today; it’s a totally different world. But that world was invaluable and I treasure the memory of it.
Here’s the end titles to the first episode of The FBI: