Here’s to the legendary Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who passed earlier today at age 95. Zimbalist was an old-style Republican whose best-known role was Inspector Lew Erskine on The FBI, the Quinn Martin series that ran from ’65 to ’74. But Erskine wasn’t cool. Zimbalist (an apparently interesting guy who fell under the sway of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for a period) unfortunately played an FBI agent and spread pro-FBI, pro-J. Edgar Hoover propaganda during a period in American history when it was really, really uncool to do that. At least Zimbalist delivered classic coolness as Stu Bailey, senior shamus along with Roger Smith and Ed “Kookie” Byrnes, in 77 Sunset Strip, which ran from ’58 to ’64. Zimbalist acted in several features (I remember his playing a commercial pilot in Airport ’75) but he was first and foremost a TV guy. His Russian-born father was a celebrated violinist.
77 Sunset Strip and its three Warner Bros. TV spinoffs — Bourbon Street Beat in New Orleans, Hawaiian Eye in Hawaii, and Surfside 6 in Miami — came up in conversation the other night. Four versions of the same detective agency show — essentially the same characters, same colorful sidekicks, same wisecracking secretary. The 77 Sunset Strip scripts were sometimes re-dressed and re-shot for Surfside 6 or whatever. I’ve read that even an occasional cast member from one series would show up in a guest capacity on another…is that true?