I’m always relieved when a person who doesn’t seem to have much of a career turns out to just not be doing TV and movies. Stephanie Zimbalist is doing fine for herself on the stage, really just fine. It is, on the other hand, a little depressing that she was supposed to be the star of Remington Steele, the plot of which involved a woman not being notable enough to get attention for her work, and she was never as famous as her male costar. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pierce Brosnan’s fame, because he’s handsome and talented and of course is famous. But Stephanie Zimbalist deserves more attention.
She comes from a distinguished show business family. Daughter of long-lived actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.,; granddaughter of Efrem Zimbalist, Sr., and Alma Gluck. Her father’s older half-sister, Marcia Davenport, was a music critic, novelist, and historian. (Who also lived into her nineties, so I suspect Stephanie’s going to be with us a long time?) She herself was third-billed in her first movie, after Mickey Rooney and Pernell Roberts—and before Alice Fay and James Stewart! (I’ve never seen it, because I don’t like Lassie, but it has a sterling cast and a Sherman Brothers score?) She’s done considerably more TV than movies, leading up to the role of Laura Holt.
Laura Holt should, in my opinion, be much higher in the conversation of great female roles. Laura is an outstanding detective. After getting her license, she discovered that no one wanted to hire a female private detective, so she invented a male superior, named after a typewriter and a football team. She then made her reputation as the associate of the mysterious Mr. Steele, until the Remington Steele Agency was one of the best-known in Los Angeles. And then one day, a con artist shows up and slips into the role of Remington Steele, having worked out that she can’t reveal that he isn’t Mr. Steele without acknowledging that there is no Mr. Steele for him to be. She then has to work around him for the next five seasons.
Maybe his role was flashier, but hers was equally challenging. There were few things that Pierce Brosnan did on the show that she didn’t—and one of the only ones on that list was fire-eating, which as far as I can work out was written into an episode because, hey, Pierce Brosnan used to be a professional fire-eater. She did a great deal of physical exertion for the role, and Laura was almost always the one who solved the case—while dealing with the fact that “Mr. Steele” was still going to get the credit. She played off a glorious sexual tension with Pierce Brosnan, with Laura holding onto her ethics while “Mr. Steele” would try to lead her astray. I know it’s famous as the show that kept him out of Bond, but it’s worth being more a part of the conversation than that.
Based on family history, she should have another thirty years in her; there’s room for more people to truly begin to appreciate her as an actress. She is, alas, of an age where it’s hard to get good roles for a woman, but I’d love to see something that pairs her with Pierce Brosnan again. I’d love to see something that lets her use her talents at all. She might make a fun grandmother in a TV show. She’d be fun in the Doris Roberts role of a rebooted Remington Steele, come to that. I’ll never not be disappointed that she isn’t as much part of the conversation of great TV actresses of the ’80s as she should be. We have not done well enough by Stephanie Zimbalist.