Robert Stack (January 13, 1919 – May 14, 2003) was a multilingual American actor and television host. In addition to acting in more than 40 feature films, he starred in the 1959–63 television series The Untouchables and later hosted Unsolved Mysteries from 1987 until 2002.
Robert Stack 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 growing up in Europe. He became fluent in French and Italian at an early age, and did not learn English until returning to Los Angeles. Stack's 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, died when Stack was nine. He always spoke 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 grandfather was an opera singer named Charles Wood, who went by the name "Modini".
By the time he was twenty, Stack had achieved minor fame as a sportsman. He was an avid polo player and shooter. He and his brother won the International Outboard Motor Championships, in Venice, Italy; and, at age 16, he became a member of the All-American Skeet Team. 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.
Stack took drama courses at Bridgewater State College. 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." Stack's first film, which teamed him with Deanna Durbin, was First Love, in 1939; this film was considered controversial at the time. He was the first actor to give Durbin an on-screen kiss. Stack won acclaim for his next role, The Mortal Storm (1940). He played a young man who joins the Nazi party. As a youth, Stack admitted that he had a crush on Carole Lombard and in 1942 he appeared with her in To Be or Not To Be. He admitted he was terrified going into this role, but he credited Lombard 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 in The High and the Mighty.
During World War II, Stack served as gunnery instructor in the United States Navy. He continued his film career with roles in such films as Fighter Squadron (1948), A Date with Judy (1948) and Bwana Devil (considered the first color, American 3-D feature film), (1952).
In 1954, Stack was given his most important movie role. He appeared opposite John Wayne in The High and the Mighty. Stack played the pilot of an airliner who comes apart under stress after the airliner encounters engine trouble. In 1957, Stack was nominated for anAcademy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Written on the Wind. He felt the primary reason he lost the Oscar to Anthony 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.
Stack portrayed the crimefighting Eliot Ness in the award-winning ABC television drama series, The Untouchables (1959–63). The show portrayed the ongoing battle between gangsters and a special squad of federal agents in a Prohibition-era Chicago. The show won Stack a Best Actor Emmy Award in 1960. He starred in three other drama series, rotating the lead with Tony Franciosa and Gene Barry in the lavish The Name of the Game (1968–1971), Most Wanted, (1976) and Strike Force (1981).
In The Name of the Game, he played a former federal agent turned true-crime journalist, evoking memories of his role as Ness. In both Most Wanted and Strike Force he played a tough, incorruptible police captain commanding an elite squad of special investigators, also evoking the Ness role. Eventually, he reprised the role in a 1991 television movie, The Return of Eliot Ness.
Stack in Written on the Wind
He parodied his own persona in comedies such as 1941 (1979), Airplane! (1980), Caddyshack II (1988), 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). He appeared in the television mini-series Hollywood Wives in 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 (1988–97), then on CBS (1997–99) and finally on Lifetime (2001–02). Stack served as the show's host during its entire original series run. For a brief period between 2001–2002, 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.
Robert and Rosemarie Stack at home in 1961.
Stack at the60th Academy Awards
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 heart attack on May 14, 2003.
He is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California. He was survived by his son, Charles Robert and daughter Elizabeth Wood Stack.