101: Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

101: Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 101 •

Actor, appearing in the classic hit television shows 77 Sunset Strip, The F.B.I., Maverick, Remington Steele and others

In 1979, Reverend Pat Robertson asked me to be master of ceremonies for the inauguration of his sizeable new Christian Broadcast Network complex in Virginia Beach, which even included a modern broadcast studio. I had recently accepted Jesus formally, and I was giving my testimony whenever it was required of me. He had hired the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and distinguished soloists for the occasion, and invited Billy Graham to deliver the keynote address.

By that time I was quite well known for having starred in two hit television shows, 77 Sunset Strip, which ran for six years, and then later, The F.B.I., which ran for nine years. I figured I had two things going for me — voice and hair. Two things the Lord gave me. A lot of hair and a lot of voice, and not much else — particularly not a lot of brains, but I didn’t need too many brains because I was an actor, and if anything brains hurt you if you’re an actor. Better not to have them.

I flew to Virginia from Los Angeles and on the morning of the inauguration of the new CBN facilities we started rehearsals that continued throughout the day and into the evening. The broadcast was set for 8:00 p.m. and by 5:00 p.m. I was a little tired from the full day of rehearsals, so I asked the organizers if they had a place where I could rest for half an hour.

They took me into this beautiful, newly constructed building that was part of the facility. It was stunning, decorated and furnished with wonderful taste in the spirit of colonial Virginia. The organizers ushered me into a gorgeous room and after thanking them, I dropped down onto a plush sofa. The moment I lay down, I heard a key in the door. I got up, and in came this party of a few people, including Billy Graham. The group was obviously composed of people he knew and with whom he could relax.

Somehow the staff had gotten their signals crossed and put me in the room meant for Billy Graham. I stood up immediately and began to apologize: “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know this room was for you. I’ll get out of your way.” He responded, “You get back there.” I said, “I’m fine, really.” Yet he insisted, “You get back on that sofa.” So I did.

Dr. Graham pulled up a chair and sat down next to me, and we joked and chatted about this and that for half an hour. He told me how he loved California when he was living there, that he enjoyed playing golf and just the kind of things I needed to hear right then. Although I had appeared on stage, on TV, and in movies, I’m not an emcee and I was in unfamiliar territory doing this program. Although I was raised in a Christian home, I had never been a proclaiming Christian. I was nervous about the program. Having this kind of quiet fellowship with Billy Graham and his reassurance strengthened me. Then it was time to leave and go to the run-through and performance with the orchestra.

I’m enormously, endlessly grateful for the support Dr. Graham gave me that day, and also because my precious daughter Stephanie, who is also an actress, found the Lord at a Billy Graham Crusade, through no prompting of mine. Even more, I admire him deeply because he is not only the greatest Evangelist of our time, but he is also a great human being. I cannot feel respect or reverence for anybody who preaches and doesn’t have a true sense of normalcy about him and a sense of humor, particularly about himself. I simply don’t care about blasting televangelists that scream at you. They don’t belong in my world. Billy Graham on the other hand is an incredible person, a normal, fun-loving, self-belittling hero.

Our Virginia meeting was enough to make me a huge follower. He was an electric speaker, with the dynamics of every great orator and conveyor of truth. He’s been extraordinary in that regard. However, underneath it all, he has always considered himself to be just a guy in service to his Lord, and I love him for that. I am so appreciative of his amazing ministry.

To me, Billy Graham has been a powerful conduit for the Lord’s love and caring in my life, as he has been for so many others. He is such a unique person. How do you define him? You can’t define God, and you can’t define a servant like Billy Graham either, because he comes at you from all directions. You want a sterling orator, you’ve got it. You want a genuine friend, you’ve got it. You want a convincing witness for Christ, you’ve got it. Whatever it is, Billy Graham has it all in excess and always has his entire life, more than any Evangelist or proclaimer of the Gospel. He has been the greatest of our time.

I believe that more than anybody else who has ever entered heaven, Billy Graham is going to hear those famous words from Matthew 25:23, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

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