Robert Stack


Actor
Robert Stack

About

Also Known As
Robert Langford Stack
Birth Place
Los Angeles, California, USA
Born
January 13, 1919
Died
May 14, 2003
Cause of Death
Heart Failure

Biography

Tall, masculine, and blessed with a matinee idol's baritone voice, Robert Stack certainly looked every inch the movie star, but he actually found his greatest fame on television. His iron jaw and terse delivery made him the ideal crime fighter to tackle the worst gangsters of the Jazz Age on "The Untouchables" (ABC, 1959-1963). That air of moral inflexibility still carried freight almost...

Photos & Videos

A Date with Judy - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Written on the Wind - Movie Poster
Bwana Devil - Lobby Card

Family & Companions

Rosemarie Bowe
Wife
Actor. Married January 23, 1956.

Bibliography

"Straight Shooting"
Robert Stack (1979)

Notes

He was inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame in 1971.

Biography

Tall, masculine, and blessed with a matinee idol's baritone voice, Robert Stack certainly looked every inch the movie star, but he actually found his greatest fame on television. His iron jaw and terse delivery made him the ideal crime fighter to tackle the worst gangsters of the Jazz Age on "The Untouchables" (ABC, 1959-1963). That air of moral inflexibility still carried freight almost 30 years later, when he hosted "Unsolved Mysteries" (NBC/CBS, 1987-2002). Prior to and between those two series, he co-starred in a number of popular films, earned an Academy Award nomination, and even got a few chances to poke fun at his rigid on-screen persona in several comedies and animated series.

Born Jan. 13, 1919 in Los Angeles, CA, Stack started life as Charles Langford Modini Stack, the second of two boys in his family. His parents divorced when he was a toddler, and his mother Elizabeth took him to Europe, where he stayed until around the age of six. Stack's stay on the continent provided him the ability to speak fluent French and Italian; in fact, he spoke no English until his return to the United States. Upon his arrival back in the U.S., Stack's parents remarried, but father Charles - a wealthy real estate investor - passed away when Stack was just nine. Stack's mother, who came from a show business family, was close to various Hollywood leading men (including Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy), and arranged for her son to spend time with these stars, both of whom acted as his "surrogate father."

Their influence was clearly felt when Stack attended college at USC, where he took drama courses. He also excelled at skeet shooting, and ranked highly on the national levels in 1935 and 1936. After graduation, he found himself at Universal Studios, where producer Joe Pasternak offered him a screen test. He broke into the film business opposite popular young actress-singer, Deanna Durbin in "First Love" (1939). The film garnered some controversy over its youthful romance plotline, which involved Stack giving Durbin her first on-screen kiss. Stack became a reliable go-to for Upstanding Young Men in all manner of features, ranging from light comedies to forgettable westerns and war pictures. Not all of Stack's early films were throwaways - he earned critical praise for his role as a young Nazi Party member in Frank Borzage's "The Mortal Storm" (1940), which led Hitler's regime to ban all MGM product from Germany. Tweaking his nose again at the Third Reich, he also appeared opposite his boyhood crush, comic actress Carole Lombard, in Ernst Lubitsch's comedy classic, "To Be or Not to Be" (1942). Lombard served as a mentor to Stack until her sudden death by plane crash while selling war bonds in January, 1942. "To Be or Not to Be" was released posthumously, while the world - and certainly Stack - mourned her premature passing. Stack would never get over her death, often commenting on her for documentaries even decades later.

Stack joined the Navy during World War II, serving as a gunnery officer for over three years. During his service, he earned numerous medals and commendations, particularly for his skill at sharp-shooting. After his return to civilian life, Stack returned to Hollywood and appeared in a variety of films. Among his credits in the early '50s were Budd Boetticher's Oscar-nominated drama "The Bullfighter and the Lady" (1951) and "Bwana Devil" (1952), the first color feature filmed in 3-D. In 1954, he landed a meaty role in the John Wayne-produced disaster film "The High and the Mighty" (1954). Stack played the captain of a doomed air flight who comes unglued under pressure; the film was a considerable success and helped cement Stack as a dependable leading man.

Stack played an undercover military agent who infiltrates a gang of American criminals operating in post-war Japan in Samuel Fuller's gritty "House of Bamboo" (1955), and starred as the alcoholic, emotionally stunted heir to an oil empire in Douglas Sirk's overripe melodrama, "Written on the Wind" (1956). The juicy part won Stack his first and only Oscar nomination, and crowned him as a bonafide star. Unfortunately, his time at the top in movies was short-lived. Reportedly, 20th Century Fox, with whom he was contracted, was unhappy that he had earned his nomination while on loan to Universal, and this cost him a chance to appear in the film version of the Ernest Hemingway-adapted, "The Sun Also Rises" in 1957. Whether this was true or not, Stack's film appearances became fewer and far between, with his contract with Fox running out in the late '50s. Like many film actors faced with the same challenges, he made the jump to television, where actor and co-owner of Desilu Studios, Desi Arnaz, tapped him to play '20s-era crimestopper Eliot Ness in his new drama "The Untouchables."

By its sophomore season, "The Untouchables" was earning considerable audience numbers - and critical brickbats over its excessive violence. The series eventually ran its course by 1963, but not before Stack took home an Emmy for his performance in 1960 (he would revisit the character in a 1991 TV-movie, "The Return of Eliot Ness"). After "The Untouchables," Stack returned to features, playing a psychiatrist who attempts to bring modern treatment to a mental hospital in "The Caretakers" (1963) and appearing among an all-star cast as American general Edwin Sibert in Rene Clement's "Is Paris Burning?" (1966). In 1968, Stack returned to television in the ambitious NBC drama, "The Name of the Game" (1968-1971). Stack played a crime reporter opposite Gene Barry and Tony Franciosa, all of whom shared top billing in the expensive semi-anthology program.

For much of the '70s, Stack appeared in made-for-TV movies, and made a third return to episodic TV in 1976, by way of the short-lived police drama, "Most Wanted" (ABC, 1976-77) for his former "Untouchables" producer Quinn Martin. His fourth and final dramatic series arrived in 1981 with another cop show, "Strike Force" (ABC, 1981-82) for Aaron Spelling, though he did enjoy a five-episode run on "Falcon Crest" (CBS, 1981-90) in 1987.

In 1979, Stack surprised critics and audiences with his blithe portrayal of real-life WWII general Joseph Stilwell in Steven Spielberg's expensive comedy "1941." Though the film was a box-office flop, Stack's light comic touch was noted, and the following year, he earned more laughs as a hard-as-nails airplane captain in the Zucker Brothers' hit comedy "Airplane!" (1980). Stack had his share of hilarious moments, most notably his first appearance on-screen, in which he nearly decimates the population of an airport terminal simply because they walk too closely to him.

Following his "Airplane" success, Stack soon found frequent work in comedies throughout the '80s and '90s, often playing parodies of his stiff, patriarchal screen persona. His comedies include "Big Trouble" (1988), John Cassavetes' failed follow-up to "The In-Laws" (1978), "Caddyshack II" (1988), and "Joe Versus The Volcano" (1990). Stack also began lending his distinctive voice to numerous animated features and series, beginning with Ultra Magnus in "The Transformers: The Movie" (1986) and carrying through the next two decades in "Beavis and Butt-head Do America" (1996), "Recess: School's Out" (2001) and the direct-to-video, "Hercules: Zero to Hero" (1999).

Having poked fun at his screen persona for so long, Stack used it to great effect as the host and narrator of "Unsolved Mysteries," which brought him a level of fame and attention he had not experienced since "The Untouchables." Much of the series' tone and effectiveness came from Stack's deep and sonorous voice-overs, which helped to underscore the suspenseful nature of the show's dramatic recreations of real-life crimes and unexplained events. Stack enjoyed his work on the program very much - even if he politely dismissed its more fantastical moments - and praised its on-screen hotline as a useful tool in crime prevention. The show was a massive hit, and even brought Stack a few film roles - he and "Unsolved Mysteries" provided a small but significant plot point in the comedy "Mumford" (1999), and he returned to his self-deprecating side in the broad laughfest, "BASEketball" (1998).

Stack was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002 and underwent treatment. On May 14, 2003, he died of a heart attack, and was interred in Westwood, California. Stack had married actress Rosemarie Bowe in 1956 and remained with her until his death. They had two children, a son and a daughter. The Stacks occasionally appeared together in productions, including the 1975 TV-movie "Murder on Flight 502" and "Big Trouble" (1986).

Filmography

 

Cast (Feature Film)

Killer Bud (2001)
Recess: School's Out (2001)
Voice
View from the Top (2001)
Totally Irresponsible (2000)
Sealed With a Kiss (1999)
Mumford (1999)
Himself
From Russia to Hollywood: The 100-Year Odyssey of Chekhov and Shdanoff (1999)
Baseketball (1998)
Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996)
Voice
CLARK GABLE: TALL, DARK, AND HANDSOME (1996)
Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995)
Himself
The Return of Eliot Ness (1991)
Joe Versus the Volcano (1990)
Dangerous Curves (1988)
Plain Clothes (1988)
Mr Gardner--Principal
Caddyshack II (1988)
Perry Mason: The Case of the Sinister Spirit (1987)
Transformers - The Movie (1986)
Voice
Midas Valley (1985)
Big Trouble (1985)
Uncommon Valor (1983)
Airplane! (1980)
1941 (1979)
Undercover With the KKK (1979)
Narrator
Un Second Souffle (1978)
Francois Davis
Most Wanted (1976)
Lincoln Evers
Adventures of the Queen (1975)
Captain James Morgan
Murder on Flight 502 (1975)
The Strange and Deadly Occurrence (1974)
Michael Rhodes
Story of a Woman (1970)
David Frasier
Action Man (1969)
Jim Beckley
The Corrupt Ones (1967)
Cliff Wilder
Action Man (1967)
Is Paris Burning? (1966)
Gen. Edwin Sibert
The Caretakers (1963)
Dr. Donovan MacLeod
The Scarface Mob (1962)
Eliot Ness
The Last Voyage (1960)
Cliff Henderson
John Paul Jones (1959)
John Paul Jones
The Gift of Love (1958)
Bill Beck
The Tarnished Angels (1958)
Roger Shumann
Written on the Wind (1957)
Kyle Hadley
Great Day in the Morning (1956)
Owen Pentecost
Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955)
Tom Baker
House of Bamboo (1955)
Sgt. Kenner, also known as Eddie Spanier
War Paint (1954)
Lt. Billings
The Iron Glove (1954)
Charles Wogan
The High and the Mighty (1954)
"Skipper" Sullivan
Conquest of Cochise (1953)
Major Burke
Sabre Jet (1953)
Col. Gil Manton
Bwana Devil (1952)
Robert Hayward
Bullfighter and the Lady (1951)
Johnny Regan
My Outlaw Brother (1951)
Patrick O'More
Mr. Music (1950)
Jefferson Blake
A Date with Judy (1948)
Stephen I. Andrews
Miss Tatlock's Millions (1948)
Nicky Van Alen
Fighter Squadron (1948)
Capt. Stu Hamilton
Eagle Squadron (1942)
Chuck [S.] Brewer
Men of Texas (1942)
Barry Conovan
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Lieut. Stanislav Sobinski
Badlands of Dakota (1941)
Jim Holliday
Nice Girl? (1941)
Don Webb
The Mortal Storm (1940)
Otto Von Rohn
A Little Bit of Heaven (1940)
Bob [Terry]
First Love (1939)
Ted Drake

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick (1995)
Other

Cast (Special)

Walt: The Man Behind the Myth (2001)
Lana Turner: A Daughter's Memoir (2001)
Carole Lombard: Hollywood's Profane Angel (2001)
Interviewee
Yvonne DeCarlo: Gilded Lily (2000)
Leslie Nielsen: Naked Laughter (2000)
Interviewee
Rock Hudson: Acting the Part (1999)
Interviewee
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) 13th Annual Hall of Fame (1998)
Presenter
The Kennedys: Power, Seduction and Hollywood: The E! True Hollywood Story (1998)
Barbara Stanwyck: Straight Down the Line (1997)
Interviewee
Judy Garland: Beyond the Rainbow (1997)
50 Years of Television: A Celebration of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Golden Anniversary (1997)
Tube Test Two (1991)
Soap Opera Awards (1990)
Performer
America's All-Star Tribute to Elizabeth Taylor (1989)
Performer
Jimmy Doolittle: An American Hero (1989)
Narration
Christmas With the Stars: An International Earthquake Benefit (1989)
55th Annual King Orange Jamboree Parade (1988)
Happy Birthday, Hollywood! (1987)
The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts (1986)
Performer
NBC's 60th Anniversary Celebration (1986)
The 38th Annual Emmy Awards (1986)
Performer
The 37th Annual Prime Time Emmy Awards (1985)
Performer
The Honorable Sam Houston (1975)
Governor Sam Houston

Cast (TV Mini-Series)

The Desilu Story: The Rags to Riches Success of the Desilu Empire (2003)
Hollywood Wives (1986)
George Washington (1984)

Life Events

1939

Screen debut, "First Love", in which he gave screen star Deanna Durbin her first screen kiss

1942

Appeared as a Polish flying ace in "To Be or Not To Be"

1951

Had leading role in "The Bullfighter and the Lady"

1954

Delivered a strong supporting turn as a pilot in "The High and the Mighty"

1955

Played the destective investigating the case in a TV version of "Laura" (CBS)

1956

Received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for "Written on the Wind", directed by Douglas Sirk

1957

Co-starred in the SIrk-directed "The Tarnished Angels"

1959

Formed Langford Productions

1959

Co-produced and starred as Eliot Ness in the ABC crime drama "The Untouchables"; won Best Actor Emmy in 1960

1959

Had title role in the biopic "John Paul Jones"

1968

Again played detective investigating the case in an ABC remake of "Laura"

1975

Played title role in "The Honorable Sam Houston" (ABC)

1980

Demonstrated comic flair in the spoof "Airplane!"

1985

Co-starred in teh ABC miniseries "Hollywood Wives"

1990

Last on camera feature role (to date) "Joe Versus the Volcano"

1991

Reprised most famous role in the NBC TV-movie "The Return of Eliot Ness"

1998

Resumed hosting duties of "Unsolved Mysteries" when it switched networks to CBS

Photo Collections

A Date with Judy - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a number of photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of MGM's A Date with Judy (1948), starring Wallace Beery, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Powell, and Robert Stack.
Written on the Wind - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Written on the Wind (1957). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Bwana Devil - Lobby Card
Here is a Lobby Card from the 3-D film Bwana Devil (1953), starring Robert Stack. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Tarnished Angels - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from The Tarnished Angels (1957), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Tarnished Angels - Publicity Stills
Here are a few Publicity Stills from Universal Pictures' The Tarnished Angels (1957), starring Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone, and Robert Stack. Publicity stills were specially-posed photos, taken for purposes of publicity or reference for promotional artwork.
The Tarnished Angels - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from Universal Pictures' The Tarnished Angels (1957), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone.
The Tarnished Angels - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are some photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Universal Pictures' The Tarnished Angels (1957), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone.
The Tarnished Angels - Movie Posters
Here are several original-release movie posters from Universal Pictures' The Tarnished Angels (1957), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone.
The High and the Mighty - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The High and the Mighty (1954). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

House Of Bamboo (1955) - Sayonara Means Goodbye Gobbling up more Tokyo locations, director Samuel Fuller follows the American apparent thug Spanier (Robert Stack) into the real then-landmark (since demolished) Kokusai theater, though the rooftop scene is from the (nearby) Matsuma department store, then hunting for Shirley Yamaguchi, the wife of a murdered gangster, into a busy bath house, in House Of Bamboo, 1955.
House Of Bamboo (1955) - When You Act Like A Hoodlum We remain far from clear on the nature of game being played by Robert Stack as Spanier, an American goon looking to shake down various Tokyo merchants, but he finally reaches Robert Ryan (his first scene, as Dawson, backed by Cameron Mitchell et al), full of attitude himself, in director Samuel Fuller’s shot-in-Japan House Of Bamboo, 1955.
House Of Bamboo (1955) - Open, This Is A Military Supply Train Skewing convention even with his all-news exposition, Samuel Fuller, directing for producer Buddy Adler, Darryl Zanuck and 20th Century-Fox, begins the first American studio feature shot wholly in Japan, with violence and Mount Fuji, in House Of Bamboo, 1955, starring Robert Stack and Robert Ryan.
To Be Or Not To Be (1942) - I Love My Slippers! Bachelor pilot Stanislav (Robert Stack) on a secret mission back from England, discovered by actor Joseph (Jack Benny) in his apartment in occupied Warsaw, his actress wife Maria (Carole Lombard) returning with news of the suspected traitor, in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be Or Not To Be, 1942.
Last Voyage, The (1960) - Open, Fire In The Engine Room Opening narration, the real name of the ship rented (and partially sunk) by Andrew and Virginia Stone, who produced together, as he wrote and directed and she edited, was the Ile de France, as we meet George Sanders as the captain, Joel Marston his 3rd officer, and briefly Woody Strode and Edmond O’Brien, in The Last Voyage, 1960.
Last Voyage, The (1960) - Get Me A Crowbar! The first encounter for the captain (George Sanders), whose priority so far has been to preserve calm despite the fire on board, with the Hendersons (Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone and Tammy Marihugh as Jill), then Woody Strode, Jack Kruschen and Richard Norris in the engine room, in independent producer Andrew L. Stone’s The Last Voyage, 1960.
Last Voyage, The (1960) - There's No Danger Resourceful father Henderson (Robert Stack) assures his wife (Dorothy Malone) and their already rescued daughter (Tammy Marihugh) that he’ll be able to find a torch to free her from the wreckage, encountering Edmond O’Brien and Woody Strode tending to other emergencies, in director Andrew L. Stone’s luxury-liner disaster drama, The Last Voyage, 1960.
Last Voyage, The (1960) - That's My Brave Girl! With mom (Dorothy Malone) pinned in the wreckage of their cabin after an on-board explosion, pleasure cruiser Henderson (Robert Stack) must rescue his daughter Jill (Tammy Marihugh) from certain death, while the ship’s captain (George Sanders) on the bridge attempts to organize, in the early disaster epic The Last Voyage, 1960.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Not Duties, Pleasures Right-hand man Mitch (Rock Hudson) has persuaded Lucy (Lauren Bacall), secretary in a Manhattan ad agency, to meet his playboy Texas oil-family scion and virtual-brother Kyle (Robert Stack) at "21," early in Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind, 1957.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Welcome To Hadley First appearance of oil tycoon Hadley (Robert Keith), atop his tower in the town named after him, with protege Mitch (Rock Hudson), joined soon by his sobered-up son Kyle (Robert Stack), introducing his new wife Lucy (Lauren Bacall), in Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind, 1957.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Thank You, Sir Galahad First appearance of trampy oil heiress Marylee (Dorothy Malone), with grabby Roy (John Larch) and barkeeper Dan (Robert J. Wilke), who has called her newly-wedded and sober brother Kyle (Robert Stack) and his wing man Mitch (Rock Hudson), in Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind, 1957.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Open, November 1956 Dramatic and fancy opening from director Douglas Sirk, Robert Stack as "Kyle" and Lauren Bacall as wife "Lucy" featured, from Written On The Wind, 1957, also starring Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone.

Trailer

Great Day In The Morning - (Original Trailer) The Civil War triggers unrest in Colorado. Starring Robert Stack, directed by Jacques Tourneur.
Bullfighter and the Lady - (Original Trailer) An American (Robert Stack) takes up bullfighting to impress the ladies but learns to respect the sport in Budd Boetticher's Bullfighter and the Lady (1951).
1941 - (Original Trailer) Panic sweeps Hollywood when a Japanese invasion is suspected in Steven Spielberg's gigantic farce 1941 (1979).
Tarnished Angels, The - (Original Trailer) A newsman falls for the wife of a barnstorming pilot whose work he's covering in Douglas Sirk's The Tarnished Angels (1958) starring Rock Hudson.
High and the Mighty, The -- (Original Trailer) The passengers and crew of an imperiled airliner reflect on their lives in William Wellman's The High and the Mighty (1954), Starring John Wayne.
Mortal Storm, The - (Original Trailer) The Third Reich's rise tears apart a German family in The Mortal Storm (1940), starring Margaret Sullavan & James Stewart.
Gift of Love, The - (Original Trailer) A dying woman (Lauren Bacall) arranges an adoption to leave her husband with some consolation in The Gift of Love (1958).
Fighter Squadron - (Original Trailer) A dedicated flyer (Edmond O'Brien) pushes himself and those around him during a perilous World War II campaign in Fighter Squadron (1948).
Date With Judy, A - (Original Trailer) Robert Stack and Elizabeth Taylor are the non-singing romantic leads, in the expansive MGM musical comedy A Date With Judy, also starring Jane Powell, Carmen Miranda and Wallace Beery.
Written On The Wind - (Original Trailer) A family of Texas oil millionaires explodes into melodrama in director Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind (1956).
Last Voyage, The - (Original Trailer) The actual ocean liner Ile de France took The Last Voyage (1960) in this sinking-ship drama starring Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone.

Family

James Langford Stack Sr
Father
Elizabeth Modini Stack
Mother
Richard Bonelli
Uncle
Metropolitan Opera singer.
Mona Chapman Bonelli
Aunt
Lyricist. Died on March 13, 1998 at age 95.
James Langford Stack Sr
Brother
Elizabeth Stack
Daughter
Actor. Born 1957.
Charles Stack
Son
Born 1958.

Companions

Rosemarie Bowe
Wife
Actor. Married January 23, 1956.

Bibliography

"Straight Shooting"
Robert Stack (1979)

Notes

He was inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame in 1971.