Stack c. 1950s
Charles Langford Modini Stack
January 13, 1919
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Died||May 14, 2003 (aged 84)|
|Resting place||Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, Westwood, Los Angeles|
|Occupation||Actor, Television Host|
Rosemarie Bowe (m. 1956)
Robert Stack (born Charles Langford Modini Stack, January 13, 1919 - May 14, 2003) 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 landmark ABC-TV television series The Untouchables (1959-1963), for which he won the 1960 Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series, and later hosted/narrated true crime series Unsolved Mysteries (1987-2002). He was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the film Written on the Wind (1956).
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 Europe (Limerick, Ireland). He became 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 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 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.
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.
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. He was the first actor to give Durbin an on-screen kiss.
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).
He was borrowed by United Artists 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Stack portrayed the crimefighting Eliot Ness in the award-winning ABC television hit drama series, The Untouchables (1959-1963). 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 had 25% of The Untouchables and The Caretaker.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
|1953||Family Theater||The Indispensable Man|
|1950||Lux Radio Theatre||Mr Belvedere Goes To College|