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Robert Stack
Robert Stack - still.jpg
Stack in the 1950s
Charles Langford Modini Stack

(1919-01-13)January 13, 1919
Died May 14, 2003(2003-05-14) (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1934–2003
(m. 1956)
Children 2
Robert Stack signature, 2002.png

Robert Stack (born Charles Langford Modini Stack; January 13, 1919 – May 14, 2003) was an American actor. Known for his deep voice and commanding presence, he appeared in over forty feature films. He starred in the highly successful ABC 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). Later in his career, Stack was known for his deadpan comedy roles that lampooned his dramatic on-screen persona, most notably as Capt. Rex Kramer in Airplane! (1980).

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.

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.

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, opera singer Charles Wood, studied voice in Italy and performed there under the name "Carlo Modini." Stack had another opera-singer relative: 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.

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. 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. He was a Republican.

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.


Stack took drama courses at Bridgewater State University, a mid-sized liberal-arts school located 25 miles southeast of Boston. His deep voice and good looks attracted the attention of 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 (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.

Robert Stack, 1940
Stack, c. 1940

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.

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, whom he had 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).

World War II

During World War II, Stack served as an officer in the United States Navy. He worked as an aerial gunnery instructor and rose to the rank of lieutenant.

Postwar career

Stack resumed his career after the war with roles in such films as Fighter Squadron (1948) at Warner Bros. 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.

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, which 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.

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

Written on the wind7
Stack in Written on the Wind (1956)

Stack was then given a role 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 in turn 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, which had lent 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 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 Stack Eliot Ness 1960
Stack portraying prohibition agent, Eliot Ness, in the series The Untouchables (1959)

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."

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

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. He owned 25% of The Untouchables and The Caretaker.

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.

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 CBS for $25 million for appearing in the documentary The Selling of the Pentagon, saying that the company had misrepresented his position regarding the Vietnam War.

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).

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

Comedy actor and later career

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

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. 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.

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

Personal life and death

Robert and Rosemarie Stack 1961
Robert and Rosemarie Stack in 1961

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 at his home in Bel Air, Los Angeles, on May 14, 2003, at the age of 84.



Year Title Role Notes
1934 Bright Eyes Man On Plane (uncredited)
1939 First Love Ted Drake
1940 The Mortal Storm Otto Von Rohn
1940 A Little Bit of Heaven Bob Terry
1941 Nice Girl? Don Webb
1941 Badlands of Dakota Jim Holliday
1942 To Be or Not to Be Lieutenant Stanislav Sobinski
1942 Eagle Squadron Chuck S. Brewer
1942 Men of Texas Barry Conovan
1948 Date with Judy Stephen I. Andrews
1948 Fighter Squadron Captain Stuart L. Hamilton
1948 Miss Tatlock's Millions Nickey Van Alen
1950 Mr. Music Jefferson 'Jeff' Blake
1951 Bullfighter and the Lady Johnny Regan
1951 My Outlaw Brother Patrick O'Moore
1952 Bwana Devil Bob Hayward
1953 War Paint Lieutenant Billings
1953 Conquest of Cochise Major Tom Burke
1953 Sabre Jet Colonel Gil Manton
1954 The Iron Glove Captain Charles Wogan
1954 The High and the Mighty John Sullivan
1955 House of Bamboo Eddie Kenner
1955 Good Morning, Miss Dove Dr. Tommy Baker
1956 Great Day in the Morning Owen Pentecost
1956 Written on the Wind Kyle Hadley Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1957 The Tarnished Angels Roger Shumann
1958 The Gift of Love Bill Beck
1959 John Paul Jones John Paul Jones
1960 The Last Voyage Cliff Henderson
1963 The Caretakers Dr. Donovan MacLeod
1966 Is Paris Burning? Brigadier General Edwin L. Sibert
1967 Sail to Glory Narrator
1967 The Peking Medallion Cliff Wilder
1967 Action Man Jim Beckley
1970 Story of a Woman David Frasier
1978 Second Wind François Davis
1979 1941 Major General Joseph W. Stilwell
1980 Airplane! Captain Rex Kramer
1983 Uncommon Valor Harry MacGregor
1986 Big Trouble Winslow
1986 The Transformers: The Movie Ultra Magnus (voice)
1987 Plain Clothes Mr. Gardner
1988 Caddyshack II Chandler Young
1988 Dangerous Curves Louis Faciano
1990 Joe Versus the Volcano Dr. Ellison
1996 Beavis and Butt-Head Do America ATF Agent Flemming (voice)
1998 BASEketball Himself
1999 Hercules: Zero to Hero Narrator (voice)
1999 Mumford Himself
2001 Recess: School's Out Superintendent (voice)
2001 Killer Bud 'The Gooch'


Year Title Role Notes
1951 Pulitzer Prize Playhouse Unknown Episode: "Broken Dishes"
1955 The 20th Century Fox Hour Mark MacPherson Episode: "A Portrait of Murder"
1956 Producers' Showcase Unknown Episode: "The Lords Don't Play Favorites"
1959–1963 The Untouchables Eliot Ness 119 episodes
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (1960)
1964 Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre Major Morgan Episode: "The Command"
1965 Memorandum for a Spy James Andrew Congers Television movie
1967 Sail to Glory Narrator Television movie
1968–1971 The Name of the Game Dan Farrell 26 episodes
1974 The Strange and Deadly Occurrence Michael Rhodes Television movie
1975 The Honorable Sam Houston Sam Houston Television movie
1975 Adventures of the Queen Captain James Morgan Television movie
1975 Murder on Flight 502 Captain Larkin Television movie
1976 Police Story Sergeant Dave Stoddard Episodes: "Odyssey of Death: Parts 1 & 2"
1976–1977 Most Wanted Captain Lincoln 'Linc' Evers 23 episodes
1978 The Adventurous Rangers of the Jungle Charles Cross Television movie
1979 The Muppets Go Hollywood Himself Television special
1979 Undercover with the KKK Narrator Television movie
1980 The Love Boat Bret Garrett Episode: "The Horse Lover/Secretary to the Stars/Julie's Decision/Gopher and Isaac Buy a Horse/Village People Ride Again"
1981–1982 Strike Force Captain Frank Murphy 20 episodes
1984 Hotel Lewis Blackwood Episode: "The Wedding"
1984 George Washington General Stark 3 episodes
Television miniseries
1985 Brothers Russell Maltby Episode: "Donald's Dad"
1985 Hotel Charles Vandoor Episode: "New Beginnings"
1985 Hollywood Wives George Lancaster 3 episodes
Television miniseries
1985 Midas Valley Drew Hammond Television movie
1986 Murder, She Wrote Chester Harrison Episode: "Christopher Bundy – Died on Sunday"
1987 Falcon Crest Roland Saunders 5 episodes
1987–2002 Unsolved Mysteries Host 292 episodes
1987 Perry Mason: The Case of the Sinister Spirit Jordan White Television movie
1987 Korea: The Forgotten War Narrator Television movie
1990 The Fanelli Boys Kyle Hadley Episode: "A Very Fanelli Christmas"
1991 The Real Story of... Lt. Littleboy / Narrator (voice) Episode: "Baa Baa Black Sheep"
1991 The Return of Eliot Ness Eliot Ness Television movie
1993 Blossom Robert Stack Episode: "Sitcom"
1995 The Pinocchio Shop George Washington Episode: "Patriots and Apples"
1996 JAG TV Host Episode: "Sightings"
1997 Diagnosis Murder Peter McReynolds Episode: "Open and Shut"
1998–1999 Hercules Bob, The Narrator (voice) 30 episodes
1999 Recess General (voice) Episode: "A Genius Among Us"
1999 Sealed with a Kiss Sumner Ethridge Television movie
2000 Star Trek: Voyager Eliot Ness Episode: "Memorial"
2000 The Lords of the Mafia Himself Television documentary movie
2000 The Angry Beavers Narrator (voice) Episode: "Slap Happy/Home Loners"
2001–2003 Butt-Ugly Martians Stoat Muldoon (voice) Main Role
2001 King of the Hill Reynolds Penland (voice) Uncredited
Episode: "The Trouble with Gribbles"
2002 Teamo Supremo Gordon / The Silver Shield (voice) Episode: "The Grandfather Show" (Final Role)

Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1953 Family Theater The Indispensable Man
1950 Lux Radio Theatre Mr 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

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Robert Stack para niños

  • William H. Perry (Los Angeles), his great-grandfather
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