“Well I come from a military family. Whether it's the country or city, I never liked the bad guy. I never put my arms around John Gotti, Al Capone or Lucky Luciano. For me, very simply, they were the bad guys and when I did the ‘Untouchables,’ I told them going in, ‘If you try apologizing for any of these crumb bums, get someone else to play the part.’” Robert Stack
American television and movie actor Robert Stack (born in 1919, died in 2003) attained some popularity as a sportsman before entering show business in the late 1930s. Making his professional debut in Universal Studio's “First Love” (1939), opposite Deanna Durbin, the USC graduate went on to gain critical praise as a young man who joins the Nazi Party in “The Mortal Storm” (1940) and as a pilot named John Sullivan in the highly successful “The High and the Mighty” (1954) before reaching the peak of his fame with his Oscar nominated role of alcoholic playboy Kyle Hadley in “Written on the Wind” (1956).
The tall and masculine actor enjoyed even more success by nabbing an Emmy Award in 1960 thanks to his coveted role of G-man Eliot Ness on the classic series “The Untouchables,” which aired on ABC from 1959 to 1963. He furthered confirmed his victory when he became the host and narrator of the popular series “Unsolved Mysteries” (NBC, 1988-1997; CBS, 1997-1999; Lifetime, 2001-2002). His long and varied list of television credits also included regular roles on “Name of the Game” (1969-1971), “Most Wanted” (1976-1977), “Strike Force” (1981-1982) and “Falcon Crest” (1987).
Stack made an auspicious comeback to the big screen in Steven Spielberg's “1941” (1979) and the box office hit “Airplane!” (1980). He was also seen in such comedy movies as “Big Trouble” (1986), “Caddyshack II” (1988), “Joe Versus The Volcano” (1990) and “Killer Bud” (2001), his last film appearance before his death in 2003.
The recipient of the 1999 John F. Kennedy National Award was married to actress Rosemarie Stack from 1956 until his death in 2003. The couple had two children, Charles Stack and actress Elizabeth Stack. Stack, who penned an autobiography called “Straight Shooting,” was the great-uncle of actor Taran Killam.
Childhood and Family:
Born Robert Langford Modini Stack on January 13, 1919, in Los Angeles, California, Robert Stack lived with his mother, Elizabeth Modini Wood, after his parents divorced. Two years later, she brought her young son to Europe and stayed there until Bob was six. Bob became fluent in Italian and French at an early age, but spoke no English until his return to the United States. In 1928, when he was nine, his parents remarried, but shortly thereafter his family had to face a personal tragedy when his father, James Langford Stack, an affluent advertising agency owner, passed away. His mother (who was the daughter of opera singer Charles Wood), introduced Bob to such Hollywood stars as Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable so Robert could have surrogate father figures around him.
Before acting, Bob, who took drama lessons at the University of Southern California and trained at the Henry Duffy School of Theater, was interested in sports. He was a passionate polo player and stood out in skeet shooting. At age 16, he became part of the All American Skeet Team and rose to #2 at the 1935 National Skeet Shooting Championship. The following year, his 5-men team set the record at the National Skeet Championships, which was held in St. Louis. For his outstanding achievement, Bob was inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame in 1971.
Along with his older brother, James Langford Stack Sr., Bob has also won the International Outboard Motor Championships in Venice.
Bob married actress Rosemarie Bowe on January 23, 1956. They welcomed their first child, daughter Elizabeth Stack, in 1957, and their second child, son Charles Stack, was born in 1958. Bob happily lived with his wife until his death on May 14, 2003. He died of heart failure. Previously, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had to undergo radiation therapy in October 2002. Bob was buried in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California.
Written on the Wind
Robert Stack began his acting career in the movie “First Love” (1939) and the next year, he delivered a good portrayal of a young Nazi Party member named Otto von Rohn in the Frank Borzage directed “The Mortal Storm.” He next costarred with Gloria Jean in “A Little Bit of Heaven” before being seen in “Nice Girl” (1941). Several more film roles followed, including playing Lieutenant Stanislav Sobinski in the Ernst Lubitsch comedy classic “To Be or Not to Be” (1942), in which he appeared opposite his boyhood idol-turned-mentor, comic actress Carole Lombard, before he put his film career on the back burner to serve with the U.S. Air Force during WWII. During his service in the military, the gunnery officer picked up a number of medals thanks to his sharp-shooting.
Returning to Hollywood after the war, Stack resumed his acting career and in 1948, was seen in “A Date with Judy,” which starred Wallace Beery and Jane Powell. He next appeared in “Fighter Squadron,” “Miss Tatlock's Millions” (both 1948), “Mr. Music” (1950), the Oscar nominee “Bullfighter and the Lady” (1951), “My Outlaw Brother” (1951), “Conquest of Cochise” (1953), “War Paint” (1953) and “Bwana Devil” (1952). It was in 1954 that Stack won the role of John Sullivan in “The High and the Mighty,” which was produced by and starred John Wayne. “The High and the Mighty” became a huge success.
Next, Stack costarred with Robert Ryan in the film “House of Bamboo” (1955), directed by Samuel Fuller, played Jennifer Jones' ex-student in the drama “Good Morning, Miss Dove” (1955) and starred in the Western “Great Day in the Morning” (1956). However, it was his next role that would garner the impressive actor extensive notice. As the alcohol-dependent, emotionally scrubby heir to an oil empire, Kyle Hadley, on the Douglas Sirk-helmed melodrama “Written on the Wind” (1956), he was handed an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The success established him as a star.
Unfortunately for Stack, his glory was not long lasting. 20th-Century Fox, with whom he was contracted to, was not pleased with the nomination because he had been on loan to Universal at the time. As a result, his film appearances became fewer and when his contract with the studio ended in the late 1950s, Stack decided to turn his attention to television.
In 1959, Stack, who had made guest appearances in several TV series during the early 1950s, landed his first regular role on the ABC action/drama series “The Untouchables.” Starring as Special Agent Eliot Ness, he won an Emmy for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead or Support) in 1960. He remained with the show until its cancellation in 1963. At the same time, Stack earned a Golden Laurel (2nd place) for Top Action Performance for his role as Cliff Henderson in the drama film “The Last Voyage” (1960), written and directed by Andrew L. Stone.
Back to film after the demise of “The Untouchables,” Stack portrayed a psychiatrist in Hall Bartlett's drama, “The Caretakers” (1963), which was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and was featured in the French movie “Is Paris Burning?” (1966). In between, he was seen on the small screen as James Andrew Congers on the made-for-TV film “Memorandum for a Spy” (1965) and in three episodes of “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre” (1964-1965). After playing a detective in a TV movie remake of “Laura” (1968), he became a regular in the NBC crime/drama “The Name of the Game,” by playing Dan Farrell from 1969 to 1971.
Throughout the 1970s, Stack spent much of his time appearing in TV movies. Following performances in “The Strange and Deadly Occurrence” (1974), “The Honorable Sam Houston” (1975), “Adventures of the Queen” (1975) and “Murder on Flight 502” (1975), he made a third comeback to series TV when he landed the role of Captain Linc Evers on the ABC police drama “Most Wanted,” which was produced by Quinn Martin, who also produced “Untouchables.” The series, however, only lasted for a season (1976-1977). Stack closed out the decade with a memorable supporting role as Major General Joseph W. Stilwell in the Steven Spielberg unsuccessful film “1941” (1979), starring Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty and John Belushi.
His comedic flair in “1941” earned Stack attention and in the following year, he landed the role of Rex Kramer, a tough airplane captain, in the hit comedy “Airplane!” (1980). Following the success of the film, Stack worked in a number of comedies for the next two decades. Among his credits were John Cassavetes' “Big Trouble” (1986, with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin), Allan Arkush's “Caddyshack II” (1988, as Chandler Young) and John Patrick Shanley's “Joe Versus The Volcano” (1990, with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan).
Meanwhile, Stack continued to pursue his television career. He starred as Captain Frank Murphy in the Aaron Spelling-produced cop series “Strike Force” (ABC, 1981-1982), acted in the miniseries “George Washington” (1984) and “Hollywood Wives” (1985) and played the recurring role of Roland Saunders in five episodes of CBS' “Falcon Crest” (1987). He also appeared in episodes of “The Love Boat,” “Hotel,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “Diagnosis Murder,” and returned to his Emmy-winning role of Eliot Ness in the TV film “The Return of Eliot Ness” (NBC, 1991).
However, Stack did not experience a massive TV success since “The Untouchables” until he became the host and narrator of “Unsolved Mysteries,” a reality based television series. Debuting in January 1987, the show was a big success and ran for 15 seasons until 2002. It also brought Stack small roles in such movies as “BASEketball” (1998) and “Mumford” (1999).
Entering the new millennium, Stack appeared in the TV film “H.U.D.” (2000), helmed by David Zucker, and supported Corin Nemec, David Faustino and Danielle Harris in the comedy film “Killer Bud” (2001). He also provided voices for the Disney animated movie “Recess: School's Out” (2001), “King of the Hill” (2001) and the Canadian series “Butt-Ugly Martians” (2001).
On May 14, 2003, Stack died of a heart attack at his home in Los Angeles, California. His wife of 47 years, Rosemarie, was at his side. He was 84 years old.
Temecula Valley International Film Festival: Lifetime Achievement Award, 2001
Golden Boot: 2000
Emmy: Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead or Support), “The Untouchables,” 1960
Laurel: 2nd place, Golden Laurel, Top Action Performance, “The Last Voyage,” 1960