Robert Stack

Robert Stack (born Charles Langford Modini Stack, January 13, 1919 – May 14, 2003)[1] was an American actor, sportsman, and television host. Known for his deep, commanding voice and presence, he appeared in over 40 feature films. He starred in the landmark ABC-TV television series The Untouchables (1959–1963), for which he won the 1960 Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series, and later hosted/narrated true crime series Unsolved Mysteries (1987–2002). He was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film Written on the Wind (1956).

Robert Stack
Stack c. 1950s
Charles Langford Modini Stack

(1919-01-13)January 13, 1919
DiedMay 14, 2003(2003-05-14) (aged 84)
Resting placeWestwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Westwood, Los Angeles
OccupationActor, Television Host
Years active1934–2003
Rosemarie Bowe (m. 1956)

Early life

He was born Charles Langford Modini Stack in Los Angeles, California, but his first name, selected by his mother, was changed to Robert by his father. He spent his early childhood in Europe (Limerick, Ireland). He became fluent in French and Italian at an early age, and did not learn English until returning to Los Angeles when he was seven.[2][3]

His parents divorced when he was a year old, and he was raised by his mother, Mary Elizabeth (née Wood). His father, James Langford Stack, a wealthy advertising agency owner, later remarried his mother, but died when Stack was 10.[4]

He had always spoken of his mother with the greatest respect and love. When he collaborated with Mark Evans on his autobiography, Straight Shooting, he included a picture of himself and his mother. He captioned it, "Me and my best girl." His maternal grandfather, the opera singer Charles Wood, studied voice in Italy and performed there under the name "Carlo Modini." On the paternal side of his family, Stack had another opera-singer relative: the American baritone Richard Bonelli (born George Richard Bunn), who was his uncle.

Stack did some drama courses at the University of Southern California, where he played on the polo team. Clark Gable was a family friend.[3]

By the time he was 20, Stack had achieved minor fame as a sportsman. He was an avid polo player and shooter. His brother and he won the International Outboard Motor Championships, in Venice, Italy; and at age 16, he became a member of the All-American Skeet Team.[2] He set two world records in skeet shooting and became National Champion. In 1971, he was inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame.[5][6] He was a Republican.[7]


Stack took drama courses at Bridgewater State University, a mid-size liberal arts school located 25 miles southeast of Boston. His deep voice and good looks attracted producers in Hollywood.


When Stack visited the lot of Universal Studios at age 20, producer Joe Pasternak offered him an opportunity to enter the business. Recalled Stack, "He said, 'How'd you like to be in pictures? We'll make a test with Helen Parrish, a little love scene.' Helen Parrish was a beautiful girl. 'Gee, that sounds keen,' I told him. I got the part."[8]

Stack's first film, which teamed him with Deanna Durbin, was First Love (1939), produced by Pasternak. This film was considered controversial at the time. He was the first actor to give Durbin an on-screen kiss.[9][10]

Stack won critical acclaim for his next role, The Mortal Storm (1940) starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart, and directed by Frank Borzage at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He played a young man who joins the Nazi party.

Back at Universal, Stack was in Pasternak's A Little Bit of Heaven (1940), starring Gloria Jean who was that studio's back-up for Deanna Durbin. Stack was reunited with Durbin in Pasternak's Nice Girl? (1941).

Stack then starred in a Western, Badlands of Dakota (1942), co-starring Richard Dix and Frances Farmer.[11]

He was borrowed by United Artists to play a Polish Air Force pilot in To Be or Not To Be (1942), alongside Jack Benny and Carole Lombard. Stack admitted he was terrified going into this role, but he credited Lombard—who he'd known personally for several years—with giving him many tips on acting and with being his mentor. Lombard was killed in a plane crash shortly before the film was released.

Stack played another pilot in Eagle Squadron (1942), a huge hit. He then made a Western, Men of Texas (1942).[12]

World War II

During World War II, Stack served as an Aerial Gunnery Officer and gunnery instructor in the United States Navy.

Postwar career

Stack resumed his career after the war with roles in such films as Fighter Squadron (1948) at Warners with Edmond O'Brien, playing a pilot; A Date with Judy (1948) at MGM, with Wallace Beery and Elizabeth Taylor.

Stack was in two films at Paramount: Miss Tatlock's Millions (1948) and Mr. Music (1950). He had an excellent role in Bullfighter and the Lady (1951), a passion project of Budd Boetticher for John Wayne's company. He later said this was the first time he liked himself on screen.[13]

Stack supported Mickey Rooney in My Outlaw Brother (1951) and had the lead in the adventure epic Bwana Devil (1952), considered the first color, American 3-D feature film. It was released by United Artists who also put Stack in a Western, War Paint (1953). He continued making similar low budget action fare: Conquest of Cochise (1953) for Sam Katzman; Sabre Jet (1953), playing another pilot, this time in the Korean War; The Iron Glove (1954), a swashbuckler where Stack played Charles Wogan, for Katzman.

Return to "A" movies

Stack was back in "A" pictures when he appeared opposite John Wayne in The High and the Mighty (1954), playing the pilot of an airliner who comes apart under stress after the airliner encounters engine trouble. The film was a hit and Stack received good reviews. In 1954 he signed a seven year contract with Fox.[14]

Sam Fuller cast him in the lead of House of Bamboo (1955), shot in Japan for 20th Century Fox. He supported Jennifer Jones in Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955), also at Fox, and starred in Great Day in the Morning (1956) at RKO, directed by Jacques Tourneur.

Written on the Wind

Stack was then given an excellent part in Written on the Wind (1956), directed by Douglas Sirk and produced by Albert Zugsmith. Stack played another pilot, the son of a rich man who marries Lauren Bacall who falls for his best friend, played by Rock Hudson. The movie was a massive success and Stack was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor; Dorothy Malone, who played Stack's sister, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Malone won, but Stack lost, to Anthony Quinn. Stack felt that the primary reason he lost to Quinn was that 20th Century Fox, who had loaned him to Universal-International, organized block voting against him to prevent one of their contract players from winning an Academy Award while working at another studio.[15]

Stack was reunited with Hudson, Malone, Zugsmith and Sirk on The Tarnished Angels (1957), once more playing a pilot. At Fox he was in The Gift of Love (1958) with Bacall.

Stack then was given a real star role, playing the title part in John Farrow's biopic, John Paul Jones (1959). Despite a large budget and an appearance by Bette Davis it was not a success.

The Untouchables

Stack portrayed the crimefighting Eliot Ness in the award-winning ABC television hit drama series, The Untouchables (1959–1963). The show portrayed the ongoing battle between gangsters and a special squad of federal agents in prohibition-era Chicago. "No one thought it was going to be a series," Stack once said, "When you tell the same story every week, it seemed like a vendetta between Ness and the Italians."[3]

The show won Stack the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series at the 12th Primetime Emmy Awards in 1960.[16]

During the series' run, Stack starred in a disaster movie, The Last Voyage (1960), appearing opposite Malone. At Fox he was in The Caretakers (1963) with Joan Crawford and he appeared in a special on hunting, The American Sportsman.[17] He had 25% of The Untouchables and The Caretaker.[13]

After The Untouchables Stack worked in Europe for Is Paris Burning? (1966), The Peking Medallion (1967), Action Man (1967) and later for Story of a Woman (1970). He did Laura (1967) on film.[18]

The Name of the Game

Stack starred in a new drama series, rotating the lead with Tony Franciosa and Gene Barry in the lavish The Name of the Game (1968–1971). He played a former federal agent turned true-crime journalist, evoking memories of his role as Ness.

In 1971 he sued CBD for $25 million for appearing in a documentary The Selling of the Pentagon.[19]

1970s career

Stack played a pilot in the TV movie Murder on Flight 502 (1975) and was the lead in the series Most Wanted (1976), playing a tough, incorruptible police captain commanding an elite squad of special investigators, also evoking the Ness role. He later did a similar part in the series Strike Force (1981).[20]

He made a film in France, Second Wind (1978).

Comedy actor and later career

Stack parodied his own persona in the comedy 1941 (1979). His performance was well received and Stack became a comic actor, appearing in Airplane! (1980), Big Trouble (1986), Plain Clothes (1988), Caddyshack II (1988), Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996), and BASEketball (1998). He also provided the voice for the character Ultra Magnus in The Transformers: The Movie (1986).

In a more serious vein he appeared in the action movie Uncommon Valor (1983), the television miniseries George Washington (1984) and Hollywood Wives (1985), and appeared in several episodes of the primetime soap opera Falcon Crest in 1986.

Stack's series Strike Force was scheduled opposite Falcon Crest, where it quickly folded.

He began hosting Unsolved Mysteries in 1987. He thought very highly of the interactive nature of the show, saying that it created a "symbiotic" relationship between viewer and program, and that the hotline was a great crime-solving tool. Unsolved Mysteries aired from 1987 to 2002, first as specials in 1987 (Stack did not host all the specials, which were previously hosted by Raymond Burr and Karl Malden), then as a regular series on NBC (1988–1997), then on CBS (1997–1999) and finally on Lifetime (2001–2002). Stack served as the show's host during its entire original series run.[21]

In 1991, Stack voiced the main police officer Lt. Littleboy (who is also the main protagonist and narrator) in The Real Story of Baa Baa Black Sheep. For a brief period between 2001 and 2002, Stack voiced Stoat Muldoon, a character featured on the computer-animated television series, Butt-Ugly Martians on Nickelodeon.

In 1996, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[22]


Stack was married to actress Rosemarie Bowe from 1956 until his death. He underwent radiation therapy for prostate cancer in October 2002 and died of a myocardial infarction on May 14, 2003.[23]

He is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California.

Selected filmography


Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor


Radio appearances

1953Family TheaterThe Indispensable Man[24]
1950Lux Radio TheatreMr Belvedere Goes To College


  • Straight Shooting (with Mark Evans) (1980); ISBN 0-02-613320-2
  • Shotgun Digest (Jack Lewis, Editor) (1974); ISBN 978-0695804978

See also


  1. "Robert Stack". The Guardian. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  2. "". May 16, 2003. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  3. Robert Stack, 84, Who Starred In Television's 'Untouchables': [Obituary (Obit)] Lyman, Rick. New York Times16 May 2003: A.25.
  4. "Robert Stack Biography - life, children, parents, name, wife, mother, old, born, movie - Newsmakers Cumulation". Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  5. "NSSA Hall of Fame Inductees". Nssa-Nsca. Archived from the original on September 14, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  6. "Target Talk Quiz: Skeet-Shooting Actor". Nssa-Nsca. February 22, 1999. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  7. Donald T. Critchlow (October 21, 2013). When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 173–. ISBN 978-0-521-19918-6.
  8. "". May 16, 2003. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  9. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: New York Times ]15 June 1939: 31.
  10. Actor Robert Stack; Movie and TV Star ADAM BERNSTEIN Washington Post Staff Writer. The Washington Post 16 May 2003: VAB6.
  11. Robert Stack Likes His Home In Nevada More Than Hollywood The Washington Post 2 Nov 1941: L11.
  12. Obituaries: Stoic [Robert] Stack: TV's 'Untouchable' Natale, Richard. Variety; New York, N. Y. Vol. 391, Iss. 1, (May 19, 2003-May 25, 2003): 52.
  13. Untouchable? No, Not Robert Stack! By Don Alpert. The Washington Post, Times Herald 9 Aug 1963: B10.
  14. Louella Parsons: Robert Stack Signs Long Contract The Washington Post and Times Herald12 July 1954: 15.
  15. "Written on the Wind (1957) - Overview". Retrieved September 19, 2015.
  16. TV is Way of Life All Work and No Play for Robert Stack Korman, Seymour. Chicago Daily Tribune 19 Jan 1963: b6.
  17. WEEKEND TV: Robert Stack Hunts Lions in New Series MacMINN, ALEENE. Los Angeles Times 30 Jan 1965: b3.
  18. Robert Stack Faces Another Publicized '1st Kiss' Dorothy Manners:. The Washington Post, Times Herald 11 Sep 1967: B6.
  19. ROBERT STACK FILES SUIT AGAINST C.B.S. New York Times ]14 July 1971: 71.
  20. Robert Stack s Law and Ardor By Ron Miller. The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C]26 Aug 1981: B3.
  21. ROBERT STACK EYES HIS STEELY IMAGE: Chicago Tribune 16 May 1988: 7.
  22. "Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 13, 2012. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  23. "Robert Stack – About This Person – Movies & TV –". May 14, 2003. Retrieved January 3, 2015.
  24. Kirby, Walter (February 15, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved June 21, 2015 via
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