“We start and end with the family” — Anthony Brandt

January 31, 2011

STEPHANIE ZIMBALIST

Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated by instances in which multiple members of a family have worked in the same or similar fields. For example, the other day I heard an interview on WNYC radio with Louis Rozzo, a fish dealer who was making an argument for taking the trouble to buy fresh anchovies and sardines and other fish that are typically packed in oil and canned. The conversation was interesting enough, but a detail that resonated with me was that Rozzo is the fourth generation owner of F. Rozzo and Sons. I would have liked to hear more about that.

In a similar way, I like reading about people like the Delahanty brothers – five of them played major league baseball – or the Harrisons, who included a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a Virginia legislator and attorney general, two presidents of the United States, and two members of Congress.  The five Marx Brothers have always interested me less for their comedy than for their family history, which started with their maternal uncle, Al (Schoenberg) Shean, who was a famous vaudevillian.

STEPHANIE ZIMBALIST

This topic has been on my mind because I had an opportunity recently to talk with actress Stephanie Zimbalist, who is soon to appear in a production of Frank Gilroy’s play “The Subject Was Roses” at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick. On her own, Stephanie Zimbalist has built a substantial resume of performances on television and on the stage. However, her family’s background in the performing arts goes back at least as far as her great-grandfather Aron Zimbalist, who was an orchestral conductor in Russia in the 19th century. Her grandparents were both outstanding classical performers whom I have admired since I was very young. Her grandfather was Efrem Zimbalist, a concert violinist whose name can be mentioned in the same sentence with Jascha Heifitz and Fritz Kreisler. Efrem Zimbalist was married to Alma Gluck (nee Reba Feinsohn), who was one of the most popular female vocalists of the early 20th century.  My family had 78 rpm recordings by both of these artists — along with others — and, long before I understood their significance, I listened to them over and over again on our wind-up Victrola.

ALMA GLUCK

Alma Gluck, who was born in Romania, was a soprano who was on the roster at the Metropolitan Opera Company. She also had a substantial concert career and was one of the first serious artists to make phonograph records, and that greatly contributed to her fame. She made more than 170 recordings for Victor between 1911 and 1924, choosing songs from a wide variety of genres. She and her husband made at least 32 recordings together, and he had a long list of recordings of his own. Zimbalist was also a composer and the director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

Efrem Zimbalist and Alma Gluck were the parents of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. – Stephanie’s father – who is a popular film and television actor whose starring roles included the TV series 77 Sunset Strip and The FBI.

 

Stephanie Zimbalist justifably has a great deal of pride in this heritage. I found that she enjoys talking about Alma Gluck – who died before Stephanie was born – and is well schooled in her grandmother’s career. Stephanie told me — only half joking, I suppose — that she didn’t pursue a singing career because she didn’t want to weather comparisons with her grandmother. Still, Stephanie Zimbalist has a trained voice and has given some performances. Speaking about her grandmother, she told me, “Daddy said she would have loved me, but I don’t know. She was tough task master on him. She wanted him to be a doctor or an engineer, and he wanted to be a dancer or a gymnast.” But the musical gene apparently didn’t skip a generation with the actor, Stephanie said. “He says he knows very little about music, but he knows an awful lot. He studied orchestration at Curtis, and he’s written a lot of things; he’s written many many pieces of music.”

ALMA GLUCK and EFREM ZIMBALIST

Stephanie Zimbalist’s mother, the former Stephanie Spaulding, died in 2007. Stephanie cares for her mom’s pet, an elegant long-hair dachshund named Scampi, who participated in our interview. I asked Stephanie what would be next in her career after her run at George Street, and she said, “Nothing. I don’t have a career. I just have bumps in the road. That’s probably why I’m doing good work these days, if I am doing good work. Nothing’s an agenda. I don’t do anything to see where it will take me. I just do it for the work. On my plate in my life right now is this sweet little thing” — a reference to Scampi, who was on Stephanie’s lap. “And then, my Dad is 92, God bless him, and doing very well, but I spend quite a bit of time with him, just to be there.”

A publicity shot for “77 Sunset Strip”: Roger Smith, left, as private detective Jeff Spencer; Efrem Zimbalist Jr., right, as Spencer’s colleague, “Stu” Miller; and Edd Burns as their protege, Gerald “Kookie” Kookson — the inspiration for the 1959 pop song “Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb.”


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4 Responses to ““We start and end with the family” — Anthony Brandt”

  1. shoreacres Says:

    It’s amazing to me that Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and my mother are nearly the same age – she’ll be 93 in March. I understand perfectly the impulse to “just be there”, and admire Stephanie for acknowledging it so clearly.

    Given your interest in families that share occupations, I have to ask – have you ever known a family where a new generation unknowingly took up similar work? Now you do – it happened to me.

    My mother’s mother died when she was 16. By the time I knew her father, he was living in Waterloo, Iowa and was a night watchman at Rath Packing.

    I was the first in the family to attend college, and it was expected that I would enter a “profession”. I did, but eventually decided to begin my own boat varnishing business. The family, my mother especially, wasn’t pleased at all, but everyone adjusted and things settled down.

    Nearly ten years into my new career as a boat varnisher, I learned my grandfather had supported the family while Mom was growing up as – a varnisher. He’d worked in houses, specializing in woodwork and cabinetry. Mom worked with him for years, doing the sanding and prep work, while he did the brushwork.

    I’d never heard a word about his earlier occupation for 50 years – not from my parents, not from anyone else in the family. And yet I’d “reverted back” as a cousin said, making it sound rather like the evolutionary chain had gotten a kink in it!

    In families like the Zimbalists, it seems as though nature and nurture conspire to move them along the same paths. And yet, in my family, where everyone conspired to move me along a different path, I turned into my grandfather. I still can’t quite get over it.

  2. charlespaolino Says:

    I love your story. The fact that varnishing is such a specialized field makes it all the more interesting.I have no connection to boats, but I have been fascinated by your occupation ever since I first read about it. It strikes me as the kind of work in which the craftsmanship can become really refined.

    In a way, I did something similar, because when I became a journalist, I didn’t know that my mother’s family had been journalists in Lebanon for at least four generations. My father and grandfather were butchers and grocers, and my mother’s father was a silk weaver. One of my daughters is a journalist and a poet, and we also have poets in that side of the family in Lebanon.

  3. Mac Terry Says:

    In the 3 person photo at the bottom of this article, it’s Roger Smith, not Roger Moore.

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