Matt Zimmerman, who died aged 87, was a Canadian-born stage and film actor who spent most of his life in Britain and established a cult following as the voice of Alan Tracy, the blonde, the youngest. of five International Rescue brothers. in Thunderbirds, the sci-fi puppet series “Supermarionation” created by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson.
“I was doing a show called High Spirits at the Savoy Theater when my friend David Holliday, who was already cast as Virgil, told me that the Andersons were struggling to find an Alan,” Zimmerman recalled in an interview. “He put my name ahead.
“When I walked into Sylvia Anderson’s office, she had a doll of Alan on her desk. ‘Do not speak!’ she screamed when she first saw me. ‘Oh my God!’ she added. ‘This doll could have been modeled on you!’
“…When Sylvia told me to speak, I simply said, ‘It’s nice to meet you.’ Again she screamed. ‘That’s the voice!’ I was given the job right there.”
Zimmerman and his fellow brothers Tracy – Alan was the lead pilot of the Thunderbird 3 spacecraft – shot 10 half-hour episodes: “We had a feeling it was going to be a hit, but we never imagined it would take off like it did.”
He voiced the character in all but the first episode of the 1960s series, and the spin-off films Thunderbirds Are Go! and Thunderbird 6.
Later, Zimmerman became a well-known figure at science fiction conventions across the country, helping to raise funds for charity, and continued to receive letters from fans around the world: Rocket Thunderbird 3 signed by America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard, who gave the name Alan Tracy.”
Matt Zimmerman was born on Boxing Day 1934 in Greater Sudbury, Ontario. His mother had married a German Jew who later converted to Catholicism, but continued to honor Jewish traditions, such as lighting Shabbat candles.
In 2008, when Zimmerman was appearing as Jewish fruit seller Herr Schultz on a UK production tour of Cabaret, he said the musical allowed him to learn something about his father’s family.
In 1959 he moved to Britain to study at Lamda and went on to work in film and television, including an episode of UFO (1970), the Andersons’ first live action series, and he was Shooty, one of two galactic police officers from Blagulon, in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981). He played a messenger in the Oscar-winning A Man For All Seasons.
His first love, however, was the stage, and by 2000 he estimated he had done around 24 musicals and plays in the West End, his favorite being Annie. He played Bert Healey in the original West End production in 1978 and in 2000, when he appeared as FDR, he calculated that he had played all the male roles in around 2,500 performances.
In 2005 he played the Bishop in Once in a Lifetime at the National Theater, and in 2007 he played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof at the Savoy Theatre. In an episode of ITV’s 2015 computer-animated Thunderbirds reboot Thunderbirds Are Go!, he guest-starred as the voice of Professor Harold.
In 1960 Zimmerman had a chance meeting with Shirley Chapman, a mezzo-soprano who would go on to sing leading roles, including Carmen, in the English National Opera. “I proposed in 10 minutes,” he recalled. “I said, ‘I’m going to marry you,’ and she said, ‘I already have a fiancé,’ to which I replied, ‘I’m sorry about that, but it’s in the cards, you can’t avoid it.'”
Their marriage in 1962 proved to be one of the happiest and strongest in theater circles. Shirley died in 2002.
Matt Zimmerman, born December 26, 1934, died June 9, 2022