Robert Stack

Last updated

Robert Stack
Robert Stack - still.jpg
Stack c. 1950s
Born
Charles Langford Modini Stack

(1919-01-13)January 13, 1919
DiedMay 14, 2003(2003-05-14) (aged 84)
Resting place Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Westwood, Los Angeles
OccupationActor, television host
Years active1934–2003
Spouse(s)
(m. 1956)
Children2
Signature
Robert Stack signature, 2002.png

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 ABC-TV television series The Untouchables (1959–1963), for which he won the 1960 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Series, and later hosted/narrated the true crime series Unsolved Mysteries (1987–2002). He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film Written on the Wind (1956).

Contents

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 Adria and Rome, becoming 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 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 that he captioned "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 took 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]

The Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which was known as the Peigan Nation before the 1990s, honored him by inducting him into their chieftainship in 1953 (July 2, 1953 Newspaper) as Chief Crow Flag. In 1962, Stack received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. [8]

Career

The High and the Mighty (1954), with John Wayne PilotsCockpitHighandMightyTrailerScreenshot1954.jpg
The High and the Mighty (1954), with John Wayne

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 the attention of producers in Hollywood.

Universal

Stack, circa 1940 Robert Stack, 1940.jpg
Stack, circa 1940

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." [9]

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 as he was the first actor to give Durbin an on-screen kiss. [10] [11]

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. [12]

United Artists borrowed him 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). [13]

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. [14]

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

In Written on the Wind (1956) Written on the wind7.jpg
In Written on the Wind (1956)

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. [15]

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. [16]

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

Robert and Rosemarie Stack at home in 1961 Robert and Rosemarie Stack 1961.JPG
Robert and Rosemarie Stack at home in 1961

Stack portrayed the crimefighting Eliot Ness in the ABC television drama series The Untouchables (1959–1963) produced by Desilu Productions, in association with Stack's Langford Productions. 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. [17]

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. [18] He owned 25% of The Untouchables and The Caretaker. [14]

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. [19]

The Name of the Game

With Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa in The Name of the Game (1968-1971) Name of the Game cast 1968.JPG
With Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa in The Name of the Game (1968-1971)

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 CBS for $25 million for appearing in the documentary The Selling of the Pentagon . [20]

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). [21]

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. [ citation needed ]

At the 60th Academy Awards in 1988 Robert Stack on the red carpet at the 60th Annual Academy Awards cropped.jpg
At the 60th Academy Awards in 1988

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. [22] Netflix revived the series in July 2020 with a six-episode run. Paying homage to the late host, a silhouette of Stack can be seen towards the end of the opening credits.

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. [23]

Death

Stack was married to actress Rosemarie Bowe from 1956 until his death. They had two children, a son, Charles, and a daughter, Elizabeth. He underwent radiation therapy for prostate cancer in October 2002 and died of heart failure on May 14, 2003. [3]

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

Selected filmography

Films

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor

Television

Radio appearances

YearProgramEpisode/source
1953 Family Theater The Indispensable Man [24]
1950 Lux Radio Theatre Mr Belvedere Goes To College

Books

See also

Related Research Articles

Eliot Ness American Prohibition agent

Eliot Ness was an American Prohibition agent, famous for his efforts to bring down Al Capone and enforce Prohibition in Chicago, Illinois, and the leader of a famous team of law enforcement agents from Chicago, nicknamed The Untouchables. His co-authorship of a popular autobiography, The Untouchables, which was released shortly after his death, launched several television and motion picture portrayals that established Ness's posthumous fame as an incorruptible crime fighter.

Unsolved Mysteries American true crime television series

Unsolved Mysteries is an American mystery documentary television show, created by John Cosgrove and Terry Dunn Meurer. Documenting cold cases and paranormal phenomena, it began as a series of seven specials, presented by Raymond Burr, Karl Malden, and Robert Stack, beginning on NBC on January 20, 1987, becoming a full-fledged series on October 5, 1988, hosted by Stack. After nine seasons on NBC, the series moved to CBS for its 10th season on November 13, 1997. After adding Virginia Madsen as a co-host during season 11 failed to boost slipping ratings, CBS canceled the series after only a two-season, 12-episode run on June 11, 1999. The series was revived by Lifetime in 2000, with season 12 beginning on July 2, 2001. Unsolved Mysteries aired 103 episodes on Lifetime, before ending on September 20, 2002, an end that coincided with Stack's illness and eventual death.

<i>The Untouchables</i> (1959 TV series) 1959 American TV series

The Untouchables is an American crime drama produced by Desilu Productions that ran from 1959 to 1963 on the ABC Television Network. Based on the memoir of the same name by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley, it fictionalized experiences of Elliot Ness as a Prohibition agent, fighting crime in Chicago in the 1930s with the help of a special team of agents handpicked for their courage, moral character, and incorruptibility, nicknamed the Untouchables. The book was later made into a film in 1987 by Brian De Palma, with a script by David Mamet, and a second, less-successful TV series in 1993.

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<i>Strike Force</i> (TV series)

Strike Force is an American action-adventure/police procedural television series that aired on ABC during the 1981–1982 television season, and was produced by Aaron Spelling Productions. The program starred Robert Stack as Capt. Frank Murphy, the leader of a special unit of specialized detectives and police officers whose job is to stop violent criminals at any cost. Mixing elements of Stack's classic television series The Untouchables from 20 years earlier with doses of Mission: Impossible and Dirty Harry, the series immediately provoked controversy over its violence – at one point the series was labeled the most violent in American TV history – though the series attempted to interject liberal amounts of humor into its regular characters and balanced the violence by focusing on the detectives' personal lives.

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Paul Picerni

Horacio Paul Picerni was an American actor in film and television, perhaps best known today in the role of Federal Agent Lee Hobson, second-in-command to Robert Stack's Eliot Ness, in the ABC hit television series, The Untouchables.

<i>The Untouchables</i> (film) 1987 American film directed by Brian De Palma

The Untouchables is a 1987 American crime film directed by Brian De Palma, produced by Art Linson, written by David Mamet, and based on the book of the same name (1957). The film stars Kevin Costner, Charles Martin Smith, Andy García, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery, and follows Eliot Ness (Costner) as he forms the Untouchables team to bring Al Capone to justice during Prohibition. The Grammy Award–nominated score was composed by Ennio Morricone and features period music by Duke Ellington.

Bruce Gordon (actor) American actor

Bruce Gordon was an American actor best known for playing gangster Frank Nitti in the ABC television series The Untouchables. His acting career ranged over a half century and included stage, movies, and a varied number of roles on the small screen.

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<i>First Love</i> (1939 film) 1939 American musical film by Henry Koster

First Love is a 1939 American musical film directed by Henry Koster and starring Deanna Durbin. Based on the fairy tale Cinderella, the film is about an orphan who is sent to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle after graduating from boarding school. Her life is made difficult by her snobby cousin who arranges that she stay home while the rest of the family attends a major social ball. With the help of her uncle, she makes it to the ball, where she meets and falls in love with her cousin's boyfriend. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Music.

<i>Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse</i>

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Steve London was an American television and film actor and attorney, best known for his role as Federal Agent Jack Rossman on the ABC/Desilu Television series, The Untouchables from 1959–1963, which starred Robert Stack as Eliot Ness.

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The Scarface Mob is an American feature film directed by Phil Karlson and starring Robert Stack. It consists of the pilot episodes for the TV series The Untouchables (1959) that originally screened as a two-part installment of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse on April 20 and 27 1959. The episodes were cut together and released theatrically as a stand-alone feature outside America in 1959 and inside the US in 1962.

References

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