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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 May, 2003, 20:16 GMT 21:16 UK
Obituary: Robert Stack
Robert Stack
Robert Stack: A Hollywood veteran who conveyed moral certainty

Robert Stack was a veteran of nearly 30 films when he shot to international stardom in a television series, The Untouchables.

The son of a wealthy California businessman, he had an early acquaintance with Hollywood.

He was born in Los Angeles, where actors and movie executives, among them Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, rented horses from his family for riding expeditions. Stack also provided instruction in skeet-shooting.

Stack's contacts, along with his good looks, helped to secure his first film role in 1939, in First Love. It proved a notable part because he was required to give the virginal star, Deanna Durbin, her first screen kiss.

Television success

In 1941, he appeared opposite Carole Lombard in To Be or Not to Be, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and made several more films before World War II interrupted his career.

Clark Gable
Hollywood heritage: Clark Gable was a Stack family client

But his most notable screen roles came in the post-war years. After serving with the US Navy, he appeared in The High and the Mighty in 1954 and then made two effective performances in films directed by Douglas Sirk.

In one of them, Written on the Wind, Robert Stack excelled as an apparently unyielding oil man whose insecurity turns him into a psychotic drunk. It secured him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

But it was in 1959 that The Scarface Mob, a pilot for a television series, gave Robert Stack the opportunity to become a household name.

Enduring fame as the incorruptible Ness

His tight-lipped, steely-eyed FBI agent, Eliot Ness, brought him an Emmy award in the first season of The Untouchables, as he battled against the Chicago gangsters of the Prohibition era.

The series ran for 120 episodes, until 1963, and its popularity ensured frequent repeats.

Robert Stack as Eliot Ness in The Untouchables
The Untouchables brought Stack stardom, but also typecasting

For Stack, it also led to other taciturn television roles in The Name of the Game, Most Wanted and Strike Force, and to many years as the host of Unsolved Mysteries.

Robert Stack was an actor who could convey moral energy through a minimum of physical activity.

Almost inevitably, though, the burden of typecasting he had to bear after Eliot Ness proved an impediment in winning other film roles.

By 1979, he was willing to exploit his established screen image with a spoof appearance in Steven Spielberg's 1941. And in 1980, he scored a memorable success with an hilarious self-parody as a hapless air traffic controller in the disaster movie spoof, Airplane!

Actor Robert Stack dies
15 May 03  |  TV and Radio

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