'FBI Agent' Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Remembered as Staunch Conservative

Image: 'FBI Agent' Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Remembered as Staunch Conservative FBI director Robert Mueller, left, presents actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr. with a badge as an honorary special agent, the highest civilian honor awarded by the FBI, on June 8, 2009.

Sunday, 04 May 2014 11:39 AM

By John Gizzi

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In news reports Saturday that legendary actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. had died at age 95, there was little mention that he was a conservative Republican who had actively campaigned for GOP candidates Barry Goldwater and fellow Californian Ronald Reagan.

The star of such long-running hit TV series' as "77 Sunset Strip" and "The F.B.I" also aided Bruce Herschensohn, who won the 1992 Republican U.S. Senate nomination in the Golden State with strong campaign assistance from Zimbalist.

On the Fourth of July in 1963, wildly cheering conservatives jammed the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C., for a "National Draft Goldwater for President" rally.

Writing of the event in "Before the Storm," author Rick Perlstein noted that on the platform were Arizona "Gov. Paul Fannin, grade-B stars Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and Chill Wills."

Perlstein was grossly unfair in branding Zimbalist "grade B;" at the time. He was in his fifth season as suave private eye Stu Bailey on the very popular "77 Sunset Strip."

In 1964, Goldwater was an active candidate for the Republican nomination for president and Zimbalist was at his side throughout the primaries. At the Manchester Armory before the New Hampshire primary in March, Goldwater was joined by Zimbalist, Walter Brennan, and, via film, Reagan.

Goldwater lost in New Hampshire but clinched the nomination in June with a narrow win in the California primary over New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. Again, Zimbalist was there to stump vigorously for him.

Zimbalist campaigned for Reagan, a fellow member of the Screen Actors Guild, in his winning race for governor of California in 1966 and in his near-successful challenge to President Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential primaries.

"I saw Efrem Zimbalist when I saw Reagan in '76," recalled Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who attended his first GOP national convention in Kansas City that year.

Along with James Stewart, Robert Stack, Pat Boone, and a few other Hollywood conservatives, Zimbalist introduced Reagan at rallies, provided voice-overs for TV spots, and was a California delegate in Kansas City when Reagan was edged out by Ford.

Another friend of Zimbalist's, conservative former Los Angeles TV commentator Bruce Herschensohn, was trailing liberal — and better-financed — Rep. Tom Campbell in polls of California Republicans before the 1992 primary for U.S. Senate.

Money was short in Herschensohn's campaign coffers. But in a videotape that was widely used at house parties on behalf of the conservative hopeful, Herschensohn was seen having a discussion with Zimbalist on a wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues.

Zimbalist began the film by narrating Herschensohn's life story and concluded with a strong pitch for campaign funds. The film helped him raise funds he needed to go on TV in the closing days of the campaign and answer attacks from his opponent. Herschensohn narrowly won the primary, although he lost in November to Democrat Barbara Boxer.

"After watching him on all those episodes of 'The F.B.I.' I was just excited to have him in my corner," Herschensohn later said.

During the ten-year run of "The F.B.I.," Zimbalist's "Inspector Lewis Erskine" embodied the no-nonsense, incorruptible lawman that Director J. Edgar Hoover wanted his agents to be. Hoover loved the series and reportedly supplied information for scripts.

When Hoover came under fire in the 1970s and members of Congress and many newspapers called for his resignation, "Inspector Erskine" himself came to his defense.

Zimbalist spoke out in favor of the embattled FBI director and debated Hoover critics in several forums.

When Hoover died in 1971, Zimbalist attended his funeral in Washington and paid tribute to him on an episode of "The F.B.I."

In the coming days, Efrem Zimbalist will be remembered by millions as "Inspector Erskine," "Stu Bailey," the voice of Alfred the Butler on the "Batman" cartoon series, and as the father of Stephanie Zimbalist on the popular "Remington Steele" program.

But, as Herschensohn told Newsmax, his activism for conservative candidates also deserves remembrance.

"In an era when Hollywood was not at all kind to those with a conservative political philosophy, he never hesitated to let his feelings be known," Herschensohn said of Zimbalist.

"He had a distinct credibility that was mixed with his humility and courage in addition to his talent. To say he will be missed is putting it much too mildly. There is no one who can take his place."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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