The Zimbalists just turn out to be remarkably long-lived, something I didn’t realize when I’d initially decided to write about him. Both Efrem Zimbalist, Sr., and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., died at the age of ninety-five. (Actually, Wikipedia and IMDb disagree about how old Senior was, with IMDb saying he was ninety-four.) As a matter of fact, it’s only been five years this month since Junior died, meaning that I had to reschedule him—I’d originally had him on the calendar for March, only to discover that it hadn’t been quite five years yet. This meant shifting two other people as well, as I’d had plans all along to do a little Remington Steele tribute while I was at it.
Not, you understand, that I only knew him from Remington Steele. Leaving aside his performances in five different shows as Alfred Pennyworth, I’m still familiar with his face from other things. I’ve never seen The FBI or 77 Sunset Strip, but I have seen an episode or two of Maverick with him in it. He’s also done movies I’ve seen—Hot Shots! and Wait Until Dark. Mostly, though, I think of him, when I think of his face, as Daniel Chalmers, the mysterious figure from Remington Steele’s mysterious past. Who was cast as a joke, I think, because of who played Laura Holt. (We’re getting to her.)
He is also, I would note, my definitive version of Alfred. When I imagine him speaking, it’s with Zimablist’s measured tones. He captured the character as, to my mind, no one else ever has. In fact, he submerges so deep into the character for me that I have a hard time remembering that it’s him. His voice even sounds different. Of all the versions there have been, he is the one who to me captures both the guardian of the young Bruce Wayne and the servant of the older Bruce Wayne and deals best with knowing that they’re the same person.
I’d like to be more familiar with his work, honestly, but it seems that most of what I’d like best of his is his voicework. There are not many roles played both by him and Sam Rockwell, I suspect, but he did Justin Hammer for three episodes of the Iron Man cartoon. Similarly, he shares a role with Alfred Molina, as Zimbalist was Doc Ock on the ’90s animated version of Spider-Man. He was King Arthur on both The Legend of Prince Valiant and Biker Mice from Mars, so that’s interesting.
He was also deep into the PTL, which is . . . less pleasant. I wonder, honestly, if he spent a lot of his life searching for identity—his parents were ethnically Jewish but converted to Episcopalianism upon emigrating to the US. (His mother was the famous opera singer Alma Gluck.) He was raised in a fairly strict environment, apparently, and he later said that he couldn’t take the freedom of going to Yale. He spent a few years as a devotee of Transcendental Meditation, then went full-bore fundamentalist Christian for a while. He himself later said he’d gone too far into it. He apparently died Episcopalian. I hope it gave him happiness, anyway.