Who was Efrem Zimbalist, Senior?

Alma Gluck and Efrem Zimbalist, Sr.(Photo: culver)

The actor Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. died earlier this week a the age of 95. Those of us of a certain age remember him as the star of TV’s The FBI. Laid back, gravely voiced and dressed by Brooks Brothers, EZJr. reportedly inspired a generation of FBI operatives. Whether or not this was a good thing is for another blog. Your parents enjoyed him as the star of  77 Sunset Strip in the early 60s.

EZJr. was a bona fide movie star prior to his G-man remake.  His was a long and distinguished career. His daughter Stephanie is an actress of some renown. Why discuss Efrem Zimbalist Jr., with all respect, on a classical music blog? Because of his parents.

Efrem Zimbalist, Sr. (1889-1995)  was a world class violinist. His fame was second to Heifetz. Zimbalist made his debut in 1907, playing the Brahms concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic. His American debut was at Carnegie Hall in 1911, with Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony . His later years were spet in Philadelphia, as Director of te Curtis Institute, wen not concertizing and recording all over the world. Zimbalist has a break out success with a 1927 tour of Australia. The aged Nellie Melba came out of retirement to appear with him. She reprimanded the public for poor attendance at his concerts, and the box office began to hum the next day.

Zimbalist eventually married the very wealthy Mary Louse Curtis Bok. She financed the Curtis Institute. His cachet attracted the finest students. Curtis thrives to this day, and has always been tuition-free.

Efrem Zimbalist Sr.’s first wife was the soprano Alma Gluck. Born Reba Frierson in 1884, Alma Gluck had a nice career going as a soprano. When she began to make records for the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1908, something happened. She became a sensation. She left off a moderate opera career and spent the next twenty years in recitals and making records. Alma Gluck was the first person ever to sell one million records. The lucky disc was “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”

She became an Episcopalian and recorded hymns, arias, art songs and popular favorites. Some of the titles don’t pass the PC test of recent years. But nothing dims her great success. Alma Gluck died young in 1938. Her daughter form her first marriage was the author Marcia Davenport.