Robert Stack

Robert Stack

1950s photo
Born Charles Langford Modini Stack
(1919-01-13)January 13, 1919
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Died May 14, 2003(2003-05-14) (aged 84)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
Resting place Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Westwood, Los Angeles
Occupation Actor
Years active 1939–2003
Spouse(s) Rosemarie Bowe (m. 1956–2003) (his death)
Children Elizabeth Stack
Charles Stack

Robert Stack (born Charles Langford Modini Stack, January 13, 1919 – May 14, 2003) was an American actor, sportsman, and television host. In addition to acting in more than 40 feature films, he starred in the ABC-TV television series The Untouchables (1959–63), for which he won the 1960 Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series, and later hosted 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).

Early life

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.[1] 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.[2] He had always spoken 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 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.[1] 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.[3][4]


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."[5] Stack's first film, which teamed him with Deanna Durbin, was First Love (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) starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart, and directed by Frank Borzage. He played a young man who joins the Nazi party. As a youth, Stack mentioned that he had a crush on Carole Lombard and he appeared with her in To Be or Not To Be (1942). 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.

During World War II, Stack served as a gunnery instructor in the United States Navy. He continued his film career with roles in such films as Fighter Squadron (1948) with Edmond O'Brien; A Date with Judy (1948) starring Wallace Beery and Elizabeth Taylor; and the adventure epic Bwana Devil (1952), considered the first color, American 3-D feature film.

Stack 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. Stack was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Written on the Wind (1956), directed by Douglas Sirk. He felt that 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.[6]

Robert and Rosemarie Stack at home in 1961

Stack portrayed the crimefighting Eliot Ness in the award-winning ABC television hit drama series, The Untouchables (1959–63). The show portrayed the ongoing battle between gangsters and a special squad of federal agents in 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.

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 miniseries 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. 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.[7]


At the 60th Academy Awards in 1988

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.[8]

He is interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California.[9] He was survived by his son, Charles Robert and daughter Elizabeth Wood Stack.

Selected filmography


Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor


Radio appearances

Year Program Episode/source
1953 Family Theater The Indispensable Man[10]
1950 Lux Radio Theatre Mr Belvedere Goes To College


See also


  1. 1 2 "". 2003-05-16. Retrieved 2013-01-17.
  2. "Robert Stack Biography - life, children, parents, name, wife, mother, old, born, movie - Newsmakers Cumulation". Retrieved 2015-09-19.
  3. "NSSA Hall of Fame Inductees". Nssa-Nsca. Retrieved 2015-09-19.
  4. "Target Talk Quiz: Skeet-Shooting Actor". Nssa-Nsca. 1999-02-22. Retrieved 2015-09-19.
  5. "". 2003-05-16. Retrieved 2013-01-17.
  6. "Written on the Wind (1957) - Overview". Retrieved 2015-09-19.
  7. "Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-01-17.
  8. "Robert Stack – About This Person – Movies & TV –". 2003-05-14. Retrieved 2015-01-03.
  9. Robert Stack at Find a Grave
  10. Kirby, Walter (February 15, 1953). "Better Radio Programs for the Week". The Decatur Daily Review. p. 42. Retrieved June 21, 2015 via
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