Happy 92nd birthday, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr. celebrates his 92nd birthday on Nov. 30. A lot of today’s television viewers either don’t remember EZ Jr. at all or, maybe, notice he supplied the voice of Alfred the Butler in some well-made Batman cartoons. But he held two starring roles on prime-time television in the U.S. almost continuously from 1958 to 1974.

Sample one is from his first television series, 77 Sunset Strip, where he played former OSS agent turned private investigator Stuart Bailey. For much of the series, Bailey was the rock of an agency that employed (either directly or indirectly) a number of colorful characters. Here, in a clip from the second episode, Bailey banters with Kookie (Edd Byrnes), the parking lot attendant next door who’d eventually become a full-time member of the firm:

From 1965 until 1974, EZ Jr. was Inspector Lewis Erskine on The FBI, the Quinn Martin-produced show where Zimbalist sometimes hunted Soviet and Soviet bloc spies. That long-running show also enjoyed a special relationship with Ford Motor Co., which sponsored the series and supplied the many vehicles used for filming. Here’s an original titles sequence from the second season where the Ford logo is incorporated in the main titles. Not only that, but you can view a 1967 Ford commercial. Warning: the sound and video is a bit distorted but it’s a great time capsule.

One reason we like EZ Jr. is, well, he comes across as an adult. We’re now in an age where people act immature well into middle age (see any recent movie with 44-year-old Adam Sandler). EZ Jr. came to age in an era when people were expected to grow up fast. Most Zimbalist performances are subtle but it’s wrong to say he’s sleepwalking through roles. Subtle is something we wouldn’t mind seeing more of these days.

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