Welcome to Vintage Paparazzi.

Introducing Efrem Zimbalist

“Zim!” whispered the excited Yale freshman, staring raptly up at the row of prancing tights. “Which ones do you like? Me, I’ll take numbers twelve and thirteen.”

His darkly handsome companion in the front row of a New Haven, Connecticut, theater appraised the chorus line’s curves’ with a connoisseur’s eye. He was a Yale freshie, too, just seventeen but already a sophisticate.

“You can have them,” he allowed. “I’ll pick—let’s see—numbers sixteen and eighteen.” Young Efrem Zimbalist, Junior, meant what he said. As the girlies bounced into the wings he rose and strolled to the stage door, shrugged philosophically when the guard shooed him away, then made the rounds of all New Haven hotels where the show troupe might stay. At one he made smooth contact with numbers sixteen and eighteen, and took them out to supper. Then he caught a hack to his Temple Street digs and packed his best rags.

When the show left that night ‘Zim’ Zimbalist left with it. He stayed with it in Philadelphia and in Washington, too. Each glorious night he beaued numbers sixteen and eighteen, also several other flashy showbabes in a binge that lasted until his allowance for the college term was gone and he was flat as a pancake. Then, with enough classroom cuts to sink a Phi Beta Kappa, he went back to school. The dean informed him firmly that Yale could get along very nicely without a playboy like Efrem Zimbalist, Junior.

If you called Efrem ‘playboy’ today, he’d shake his head unbelievingly and chuckle right in your face. It’s about the last tag anyone in his right mind, including Efrem, would hang on this composed, purposeful gentleman of many mature parts who leads a private life as normal and steady as 98.6°. “And really rather dull, too, I suppose,” he cheerfully confesses. “Up at six, home at seven, in bed by ten—that’s me.”

In between, about the only capers Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. pulls these days are his TV escapades as Stewart Bailey, the suave sleuth of 77 Sunset Strip. Ten hours a day, five days a week most of the year, Zim reports with banker’s regularity to get his handsome head slugged, six-foot body ticked by bullets or roped and dumped from a speeding car and once even sealed in a coffin. Sexy molls are usually out to hook him, or vice versa.

Efrem at home

At his sprawling Encino country home, however, Efrem drops the act for a very different reality. The only heels that kick up there are those belonging to the saddle horses in his stables. The women he’s involved with are his pretty, pixyish wife, Stephanie; their three-year-old daughter, Steffi, and Efrem’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Nancy. He’s surrounded by kids, pets, trees, paint, fertilizer, books, music and the delightful distractions of domesticity. He’s alert and sensitive to everything around him, but he couldn’t be more relaxed. A close friend of his puts it this way: “Ef,” he says, “is the most adult person I know.”

At thirty-eight, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. is certainly adult enough to evaluate and appreciate the wild-haired sprees that used to be par for the course with him—every bit as accurately as he once sized up that chorus line’s charms and obeyed his impulse. It wasn’t the first time or the last.

“But, in some ways,” he says, “I’m glad I did. Not that I’d recommend following my foolish footsteps. I tossed away opportunities with a cavalier disregard for the future. I disappointed people who loved me and had high hopes for me. I wasted valuable time and money and I got in some lovely jams. Today I’d be disgusted with myself. I wasn’t then, because I wasn’t what I am now. And it could be that’s just the reason I am—if that makes sense.”

When he talks, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. pulls thoughtfully at the shell-briar pipe usually clamped between his white, even teeth. The corners of his good-natured brown eyes crinkle. “I guess the best way to put it,” he grins, “is with the old cliche: youth must have its fling. There comes a time when you have to snap the leash, no matter what happens. It’s a part of growing up you just can’t duck. And, if you ask me, it’s a lot better to let the bugs out, when they’re ready to fly, than to hold them in for later when it might be more disastrous. I’m not exactly Dad, the old armchair philosopher, yet,” he allows, “but I’m thankful that I got all that out of my system so I could handle the real knocks when they came along.”

The raps were rugged for Efrem Zimbalist when they came. Among others, he lost the first real love of his life when his first wife died leaving him with two small children to care for. But long before that happened he was mature enough to meet responsibility. And he’d found his groove in life.

Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. is not shallow enough to credit all this to a reasonably misspent youth. He’s grateful for a privileged background and a heritage of unusual intelligence, talent and worth. “But that’s pure luck,” he believes. “It doesn’t really make much difference who you are or where you come from. It’s up to you. The set-up varies but the problem is basically the same: somewhere along the line you have to take off, let yourself go and hope for the best. No one else can learn for you.”

From the crib on

Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., started with the best of everything and every opportunity to learn. He was born almost with a silver tuning fork in his mouth, November 30, 1922, in a spacious New York town house. His father, of course, was Efrem Zimbalist, a gifted Russian from Rostov-on-Don who became one of the world’s great concert violinists. Alma Gluck, his mother, was a world-famous operatic star and a Victor Red-Seal favorite of her day. Efrem’s halfsister on his mother’s side is Marcia Davenport, the novelist, although she was grown by the time he came along. Closer by far was his sister Maria, three years older, who saw eye to eye with Zim about the free life. All their young lives Maria and Efrem scrapped like cub wildcats, but palled up for adventure. They adore each other today, although when Efrem was still in his crib, Maria did her best to eliminate the competition.

One afternoon, Alma Zimbalist happened in the nursery to find Maria leaning over her sibling rival, a pair of scissors poised in her small fist. She quickly lowered the dagger and patted Efrem’s head. “Nice little brother,” purred that infantile Lady Macbeth, “sweet little brother. I wouldn’t stick him in the head with scissors, would I?”

At that point, Efrem was a tempting target. His blond curls had suddenly dropped out leaving him as bald as a baby Yul Brynner. When his hair came in, it was black and thick and he hadn’t lost a one since. “But I’ve often wondered,” grins Efrem, patting the mop speculatively, “if underneath somewhere there’s not a hole in my head.”

Outside of Maria’s brief threat, there was hardly a flaw in young Efrem Zimbalist’s family picture. Money was never a problem. Although his mother stopped concert tours with her babies (Efrem never heard her sing except on records) her royalties poured in. His father’s concert fees were steady and fabulous. At the big house in Manhattan’s East Seventies and at the Connecticut summer one, too, the Zimbalists lived in Continental elegance. Five servants staffed them both and the children had their own governess. They wore custom clothes and, for a while, when they traveled it was in their mother’s private railroad car. When Junior Zimbalist went off to exclusive Bovee School, he was driven to and from by a chauffeur. This gave Ef his first chance to live it up. He talked the driver into racing the other kids home.

Sometimes they raced classmates named Lex Barker or Mel Ferrer and then he had a chance. But usually, headed his way was a kid named Reid, whose grandfather owned the Herald-Tribune. “We could never lick him,” recalls Zim. “His car had a press sticker and the cops waved it right by. We got stopped and handed tickets.” When the tickets piled up at home the joyrides were over.

Gentleman’s reply

By that time pint-sized Efrem Zimbalist was already in love. He’d tumbled hard for a curly-topped blonde in kindergarten, who later became a society glamour girl. Efrem bumped into her now and then and went to her coming out party later. But he kept his secret until one night, a while back, at a dinner party in Beverly Hills. Married now, like himself, and not so glamorous, Zim thought it safe to tell her. “About a thousand years ago,” he smiled, “I was desperately in love with you.”

The kiddie heartbeat gave him a blank stare. “Where in the world was that?” He told her about kindergarten and his unvoiced passion, thinking it funny. The stare froze.

“That’s impossible,” she cut him off. “We couldn’t have gone to kindergarten together. You’re obviously much older than I!”

“You’re right, of course,” Efrem retreated gallantly. “It must have been another little girl.”

He knew it wasn’t, but if there’s one thing Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., unmistakably is, it’s a gentleman. It’s not just his pleasantly cultured voice and ease of manner which, even on 77 Sunset Strip, set Efrem apart from Edd ‘Kookie’ Byrnes and Roger Smith, too. The hallmark goes deeper: Efrem’s considerate, never rude; he’s friendly, not hostile; open instead of suspicious. He gets amorous fan mail, of course, but seldom the wacky kind. “I’d like to be in love with you,” wrote one smitten girl, “because I know you’d never hurt me.”

Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., has never consciously hurt anyone in his life. He’s too sensitive himself for that, too gentle. At home today he’s like an affectionate big brother with his teen-age children, Nancy and Skipper (Efrem III)—whom he raised alone for half their lives. Almost anything that lives finds refuge in Encino with the Zimbalists—stray cats, dogs, turtles, lizards, snakes, birds—even skunks. Zim himself pets a Japanese rat and sometimes lets it burrow down in his pillow at night. He was upset not long ago when he brought home a new Dane puppy and the family poodle ran away in a jealous huff. “I know just how she felt,” sympathizes Efrem. “Like Maria did when I muscled in at home.”

Efrem’s own juvenile breakaways were not spurred by bitterness, anger or the vicious resentment of a mixed-up juvenile delinquent. That’s why he can look back and call them good. “I was simply too tightly collared,” Efrem explains. “When the collar slipped I went wild exploring my freedom.”

His mother and father: what they were like

Although the Zimbalist kids were so close to their governess that when her time came to leave, Maria secretly phoned the transfer company that was coming for her baggage and canceled the order—their mother, Alma, ruled the roost. Alma Gluck was a formidable woman. “Almost ferocious,” as Zim remembers, “in her demand for perfection and discipline.” Those virtues had made a beautiful, talented but obscure Rumanian girl into a rich, renowned artist who sang for royalty and mastered five languages. She applied these demands for perfection to her children’s lives and the organization of the Zimbalist household.

His father was completely different. Efrem Zimbalist, Senior, who lived a public life, was and is reserved and reticent by nature. He addressed the world—and his family—as he did his violin, gently, with deep feeling and a mastery that was subtle, not overpowering.

Efrem Zimbalist was away on tour when his son was born and absent on his first fifteen birthdays. Sometimes, when Junior was old enough, he went along—once on an around-the-world tour. But they were never pals. “I never had a heart-to-heart talk with my father,” says Efrem, Jr.; “we never told each other much about ourselves and still don’t.” Yet, the influence was pervasive. In his manhood, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., favors his gentle dad temperamentally more than he does his dynamic mother. As a boy, it was the other way around.

From both, Efrem, Jr., inherited a love of good music and a talent that was to show up later on. He was exposed to culture and the arts from the time he could crawl. Famous actors, painters, writers, composers and musicians cluttered the drawing room. When Junior was only five his father handed him a violin and commissioned Jascha Heifetz’ father to start him out. Junior stuck it restlessly for three years, getting his knuckles swatted for inattention by the maestro, who finally threw up his hands and walked out. Efrem was exposed to the piano next and disappointed his father the same way. He plays and composes both today for his own pleasure, but then he studied them only to please his parent. When it was painfully obvious that he’d never be a virtuoso, Zimbalist pere shrugged philosophically and let up the pressure. Both instruments were always around when Efrem cared to touch them. Things were strictly different with his mother’s projects for her young son.

One summer, when he was only ten, she gave him a power boat that did twentytwo knots. Zim roared off alone at once on his maiden voyage, racing the ferryboat from Fisher’s Island, where the Zimbalists often summered, to New London, Connecticut. He’d been cautioned to turn on the cooling system before he started but, of course, he forgot about that. Halfway across the Sound it conked out and he wallowed perilously for six hours until fishermen picked him up. That was the end of the speed boat. His mother promptly took it away and sold it.

Campus hell raisers

One reason Efrem’s mother gave him the boat was because she wanted him to be an engineer. But not a sloppy engineer for a minute. Already he’d spent two years in the strict Fay School in Southboro, Massachusetts, packed off at eight to start fundamentals. “It was a wrench for me at that age,” remembers Efrem, “and I was miserably homesick. But I guess I was lucky to get it over with early. Later, in the Army, I saw kids who’d never been away from home a lot sicker than I ever was.”

Another strict school, St. Paul’s in Concord, New Hampshire, followed Fay. Efrem was the dinkiest kid in his class (he didn’t sprout until he hit college) but he played football and baseball, rowed and made his letter in gym. He completed his last two forms in one year and graduated at sixteen. He also headed a band of campus hellraisers.

“It really wasn’t so wicked,” Zim laughs today. “Started, in fact, with a cigarette-smoking league strictly against rules, you know. That led to sneaking out for dates with town girls and finally we brazenly took in dances and stayed out all hours. We rubbed charcoal on our faces, wore dark clothes and climbed in and out of my window. Well, one night the housemaster caught me—half in the window and half out.”

The gang of sinners elected Zim spokesman to face Dr. Drury, the rector. He confessed everything so charmingly that instead of the expected ticket home, all he got was, “Well, I’m sure you’ll never do a foolish thing like this again.” The good doctor couldn’t have been more wrong. Zim was just warming up for a monumental breakout ball in—of all places—Russia.

At St. Paul’s he had just $1.50 a month to squander—when he could spring himself. In Moscow, sixteen-year-old Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., suddenly found himself rajah-rich, with over 100,000 rubles burning his pockets and no one around to fence him in. But let Efrem tell it. . . .

“It all happened,” he explains, “because President Roosevelt recognized Soviet Russia and that spring Father got invited back, for the first time since he’d left for a concert tour. He took all of us with him and we splashed in the Black Sea while he played his dates. The home folks ate him up. He made more money than he ever had before anywhere. But it was all in ruble—and that was the catch. You couldn’t take them out of Russia.

“When father ended his tour, he decided to let Maria and me stay in Russia. You see, I got word there that I’d flunked my entrance exams for Yale, and Maria had been bounced out of Bennington the year before. So, it seemed to make sense for us to spend the frozen loot broadening our outlooks while the dust settled. We accomplished both in style—but not quite as the family had planned. . . .

“They knew what usually happened when Maria and I got together, so I was staked out in Kiev at the Conservatory of Music. I lived with a Tartar family and had a tutor who couldn’t speak a word of English. It didn’t make sense to me. Maria was installed five hundred miles away in Moscow to learn Russian and explore the arts alone. As soon as the coast was clear I took out for Moscow and Maria.”

Living it up in Moscow

Zim still sighs blissfully, re-living the extravagant orgy that followed. “Imagine,” he says, “two kids who’d been supervised all their lives—like hothouse flowers—two supercharged ones like Maria and myself with a fortune to blow. We went exquisitely wild.”

They lived like a prince and princess. They bought every luxury that was for sale—a fur coat apiece and individual grand pianos for their plush apartment. They raided the Moscow shops for diamond rings, watches, and expensive trinkets. They’d have bought a Rolls-Royce if they could have found one. Nights, Efrem and Maria practically supported the elegant Hotel Metropole, dining on mollosol caviar and Cordon Bleuchampagne after the theater, opera or ballet. “At sixteen I was pleasantly stuffed and potted every night,” recalls Zim. “We got so spoiled that when the waiter brought us shashlik on a skewer we groaned. We expected the chef to bring it in himself on a flaming sword.”

Sometimes, they struggled out of bed for breakfast at three o’clock in the afternoon and a Russian language lesson. More often there was just time to get dressed for the night’s ball.

What broke it up was the bitter Russian winter. One thing they couldn’t buy in Russia was enough warm clothes. When they wrote home for those, two boat tickets came instead. With all their splurging, Efrem and Maria left 20,000 rubles in Russia. Going home, they carried a letter from a Moscow theatrical producer to Katherine Cornell in New York. On the boat they decided to open it. It was quite a letter.

“I’m sending this by two spoiled, silly, empty headed children who have been acting disgracefully in Moscow,” it began. The report was too uncomfortably true. Efrem ripped up the note and tossed it out the porthole.

That fall he made Yale, all right, by boning at ‘Rosy’s’ famous cram school. But after Moscow, campus life seemed dull as dishwater. Along came the chorus girls and that was that. It wasn’t the end of Yale, however. Next year Efrem got another chance, as ‘social sophomore’, a polite term for a second-year freshman. But Zim Zimbalist still hadn’t simmered his high-living Moscow tastes down to size. He made the mistake of loading up on eight o’clock classes.

“I just couldn’t seem to get up on time,” confesses Efrem, “and there were other distractions. But I had to do something to excuse the cuts or it was heave-ho again.” He hit on the brilliant idea of becoming a chronic invalid. “My repertoire of sniffles, coughs, aches and pains,” he claims, “was so realistic that sometimes I made myself actually sick.” They didn’t fool the doc, however. One morning when Efrem showed up at the dispensary shaking and pale, he called him into his office.

“Sit down, Mr. Zimbalist.” Zim sat. “Now,” he riffled a thick sheaf, “this record shows that you’ve been here with headaches, sore toes, runny noses, bloodshot eyes—and I daresay, hangnails, exactly forty-four times this term and last. I don’t want to see you again in here unless you are at death’s door—is that clear?”

It was clear, all right, but Zim was too far gone by then. His marks were dismal and his bills astronomical. He couldn’t stand the food in Freshman commons, so he charged his dinners at expensive restaurants. He saw no point in wasting his allowance on laundry, so he charged a new shirt when one got dirty. “At one time,” Efrem remembers, “I had forty shirts stacked under my bed—all charged to my father.” Then, of course, there were girls.

All the, reckonings caught up with him at once. That April Mr. E. Zimbalist, Junior, left Yale for the second time by request—and for keeps.

The hard road down

Efrem shakes his head at the goof-off, but without too painful regrets. “Obviously, I didn’t belong in Yale,” he concludes. “At that point, I wasn’t up to it. Maybe because I was too young, too spoiled, too wild, too indifferent. I see some parents now shoe-horning their kids into college and propping them up all the time they’re there. It’s wrong. You don’t get anything out of what you don’t work for. I wasn’t about to then and so what happened was inevitable. I had to pay to learn.”

Efrem paid first by dropping his standard of living grimly below rock bottom. Back in New York he didn’t dare see his parents. A friend fed and sheltered him until he got a page job at NBC and $15 a week. Then he found a room for $4, managed to eat on $1 a day. Word of his debacle at Yale and desperate condition reached home eventually, of course. And word reached Efrem that his mother was ill. He went home to face the music but there wasn’t any. “Nobody bawled me out. My father was only sadly polite about it. I know mother was bitterly disappointed, but she didn’t show it. That made it worse.” She didn’t tell Efrem either that she knew she was going to die.

Hard times had cooled Efrem down considerably, but he thinks his mother’s death started him growing up at last. “Until then,” he says, “I was still irresponsible and aimless, subconsciously relying on her great strength.” At her funeral he thought of the things he should have done and hadn’t, what he should have been and wasn’t. He knew he had to do something with his life. What, though, was a mystery.

Acting had never occurred to Efrem. He suspected that actors were misfits who couldn’t do anything else, which figured in his case. Also, the radio players he saw breezing importantly in and out of NBC seemed a lot better off than he was. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. took his first steps toward acting because they were the only ones he could see that led slightly up.

He quit ushering for a chance on the radio thriller, Renfrew of the Mounted, and after that was a voice on Cavalcade of America. He made the same $15 a week on both but he barely knew a dramatic role from a doughnut. Zim’s first efforts to develop his art make him laugh today, although they weren’t so funny at the time.

“There was a slightly insane woman down in the Village with the improbable idea of replacing second features on movie bills with plays,” he relates. “Unfortunately, I heard about her and thought—ah—that’s for me! That winter we rehearsed for nights and nights in an old stable with no heat and no pay, naturally, working up The Last Mile, but it didn’t move a foot. Nobody booked it. Undaunted, we tried again with Alice in Wonderland,believe it or not. It opened—and closed—in less than one night. Four people came, and three demanded their money back. We were so lousy even the stage crew booed!”

First love

After that, Zim decided he’d literally have to pay to learn. His father staked him to a year’s tuition at Neighborhood Playhouse, and there a lovely, starry-eyed ‘Navy brat’ named Emily McNair made the year even more interesting. For a while, Efrem wondered if this was just another flare-up of his old weakness but each day and each date told him it was not. It was the real thing, and the stars in Emily’s eyes were contagious. She’s probably the real reason Efrem’s a successful actor today. Because he loved her, and lost her, but never quite forgot the ambition they shared in his first mature devotion. Emily was step two in growing up for Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

They talked of marrying and continuing their studies at the Royal Academy in London. Efrem got to London, eventually, but not with Emily. He went on different business with step three of his maturing process—the Army.

“If there was any playboy left lurking around in me,” he says, “the Army knocked it out.”

He was drafted in February, 1941, almost a year before Pearl Harbor. Days after that red December 7, Emily McNair became Mrs. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. The next four years were bittersweet.

In the infantry, Efrem rattled around at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, where there was no room for a bride. Luckily, but “with no justification whatever,” he put down ‘actor’ as his civilian occupation, so, naturally, they made him a clerk. For a year he had a commuter’s desk job on Governor’s Island and some life with Emily. Then his chance came for OCS. Efrem got his gold bars at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He followed the DDay invasion into France as a replacement officer. In Paris, right after the Liberation, Lt. Zimbalist had his last caper. He went AWOL and joined the celebration, but he didn’t get caught. A Nazi landmine ripped his leg in Germany for his Purple Heart and, what was more important to him, five discharge points to bring him nearer home and his family. He was in the hospital at Bristol, England, when Emily sent him V-mail news of Nancy’s birth.

Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., was five years in uniform and plenty glad, at the end, to shuck it. But he wouldn’t trade his experience for anything. It put the seal of manhood on him. Indirectly, it gave him his real chance to act. After his wound Zim did some Special Service shows for two Army captains named Garson Kanin and Josh Logan. Both liked Zim’s style and both are pretty important producers. One put him on Broadway; later, the other sent him to Hollywood. Kanin pitched first. Less than a month after he got home Efrem played a featured part in The Rugged Path.

That break seemed to usher in the best years of Zim’s young life. He seasoned his craft with the American Repertory Theater in a half dozen more plays. He established a home in Bedford Village with Emily and Nancy. Skipper was born to bless it. With his friend, Chandler Cowles, Efrem had the satisfaction of producing the first operatic works of Gian-Carlo Menotti, The Medium, The Telephone and The Consul (which won a Pulitzer Prize). He felt great, worked hard, tasted success and saw light ahead at last.

Then suddenly his world turned black.

The black years

The doctor told him why Emily was so thin and tired—and why she’d never get well. For two years, Efrem kept the secret from her, as his mother once had from him. Emily died right before The Consul’s triumph.

Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., doesn’t like to talk about the desolate stretch which followed. But if you press him, he tries to explain, in part at least, why when Emily died he cut off a flourishing career and didn’t speak a line for four years.

“The heart was gone out of it for me,” he says. “Acting had brought us together and it was something we had loved together. We loved, I think, the sociability of the theater as much as the work. But without Emily I didn’t want to see people. Maybe I wasn’t yet adult enough to face what happened. Anyway, I had to get off by myself for a while.”

He took Nancy and Skipper to a house in Connecticut. For a year Efrem could do nothing except try to make up their loss to them. Then in his solitude he turned to his undeveloped heritage—music. Menotti encouraged him to write and so did another composer friend, Samuel Barber. He mastered counterpoint and harmony. For another year he lost himself writing serious compositions. Efrem still writes them as a hobby. Then, he did it as a sort of therapy. But it wasn’t a living. His father needed an assistant at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, which he headed. Efrem’s first step back to the outside world was there. He stayed two years.

“Then, one afternoon I was sitting on a bench in Rittenhouse Square,” Efrem recalls. “Suddenly I got a good look at myself and it appalled me. What was I doing there feeding peanuts to the squirrels? What was I doing in Philadelphia? What was I doing working in a school? I knew I had to go back to the gregarious, exciting life I really wanted.”

Zim quit his job and eased back with summer stock in New Jersey and Buck’s County, Pennsylvania. In New York he played on TV soap operas and then the big air shows. By the fall of 1955 he was ready for Broadway again, rehearsing Noel Coward’s Fallen Angels. But something was missing. One night, right before Christmas, he began to realize what that was.

Sometimes Efrem shudders to think how he almost missed meeting Stephanie Spaulding. If rehearsals hadn’t broken early that evening, he’d have just had time for dinner before a party that started at 10: 30. As it was, Bill Windom, a friend in the play, asked him to dinner at his place and then, with time still to kill, suggested they look in on a couple of girls he knew. “If I make the party I’ll be doing great,” Zim yawned.

“Wake up,” Bill told him. “It’s almost Merry Christmas.”

They took a cab over to an old apartmentized house on 49th Street. Steffi was in an old shirt, jeans and barefooted. She was shining a pair of riding boots and she didn’t stop when Zim was introduced. He asked her which she was shining, her face, smeared with polish, or the boots and why?

“I’m going to ride in a hunt tomorrow,” said the dishevelled blonde pertly. “And I want to look nice when I fall off my horse.”

“Bet you don’t.”

“How much?”

“All I’ve got—let’s see—four bits?”

The real thing . . . twice

That’s about how it went and pretty soon Zim and Bill did, too. But the next afternoon Efrem’s housekeeper scribbled on his memo pad, “Lady phoned—said you owe her fifty cents.” Zim knew where to take the half-dollar and a gift-wrapped bottle of pain killer. Without the shoe polish he thought Steffi made a beautifully irresistible cripple. They didn’t miss much time after that. They were married two months later.

With sprite-like Steffi, Efrem Zimbalist learned to laugh again. He also learned that the real thing can come twice with equal intensity. He still wears a gold signet ring that Emily gave him, with a flowery design traced around the initials. It’s a bluebell, because that was his pet name for her. Steffi understands. She understood before she married Efrem.

They’ve been supremely happy for almost four years, and the prospect is forever. A Washington, D. C, girl, daughter of a diplomat, Stephanie has lived around the world, was educated in Boston and Europe. She’s artistic, athletic, domestic, good humored and in Zim’s words, “a constant, delightful surprise”—about all a man like Zimbalist could ask for. Steffi’s also pretty darned capable.

When Efrem’s other Special Service captain, Josh Logan, sent him out to Hollywood late in 1956 to test for Sayonara, Steffi came along, leaving Nancy and Skipper back East in school. But Jim Garner already had the job Efrem wanted sewed up. At Warner’s he tested for Bombers B-52, but his agent told him, “Forget it—they want Tab Hunter.” The Zimbalists packed up to leave. Then the phone rang again with the good news. “You got it—a contract, too.” That was December 17, a week before their first Christmas together. So Efrem had to leave for location at dawn.

Efrem took Stephanie to the plane and kissed her a gloomy good-bye. “I guess we skip this one,” he said. She just hugged him closer, and he felt like a dog wishing all the hard work on her: renting their apartment, taking the kids out of school, packing their things, making the move to Hollywood—a hundred tedious chores. It would take weeks.

By Christmas Eve, Efrem was more miserable. He hadn’t heard a word from New York. In his hotel room he dressed to have dinner with the Ira Gershwins. They were old friends and the invitation was a lifesaver, but—well—they weren’t his family. He was going out the door when the phone called him back.


“This is your landlord,” said a voice. “I’ve got a problem at your house.” What house? “The one you’ve rented,” Efrem was informed. “There’s a big package up here and I don’t know what to do with it. You’ll have to come up.” And he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Put out and mystified, Efrem followed directions, winding up high in the Hollywood hills, upset that he’d be late for a very kind invitation. He found the place at last and banged open the door impatiently. Under a lighted tree sat his package—Stephanie, Nancy and Skipper, chorusing “Merry Christmas!” She’d done it all in seven days, alone on both coasts to meet a sentimental deadline.

Since that miracle, Efrem doesn’t underestimate the power of the fragile-looking woman he loves. She can outride him on a horse, keep up with him in the pool and on skis. More important, Steffi’s a devoted mother to Nancy, Skipper and Steffi, Jr. Keeping that active brood and the Zimbalist menagerie fed, cared for and happy is a full-time job, but Steffi and Efrem have made their two-acre ranchette into just the kind of green, blooming, graciously comfortable place they need, in less than a year. It’s no wonder Zim says, “Once there, I’m a hard man to move.”

They belong to several clubs—the Los Angeles Tennis, California Racquet and West Hills Hunt, among others. They have “hundreds of friends.” But the ’34 Packard that Efrem bought ten years ago for $300—and loves madly—seldom chugs out of the garage except to the studio. For one thing he’s so busy. Efrem has six pictures behind him and more ahead, if he ever gets unglued from 77 Sunset Strip, which doesn’t seem likely soon. “We haven’t had a honeymoon yet,” reveals Ef, “and we talk about Europe—or even New York and all the shows. But actually the best show on earth is watching our children grow.” Which is just another way of saying that home is where the heart lives.