The son of a wealthy California businessman, Robert Stack spent his teen years giving skeet shooting lessons to such Hollywood celebrities as Carole Lombard and Clark Gable; it was only natural, then, that he should gravitate to films himself after attending the University of Southern California. At age 20, he made his screen debut in Deanna Durbin's First Love (1939) in which he gave his teenaged co-star her very first screen kiss. Two years later he appeared opposite his former "pupil" Carole Lombard in the Ernst Lubitsch classic To Be or Not to Be (1942). After serving with the navy in WWII he resumed his film career, avoiding typecasting with such dramatically demanding film assignments as The Bullfighter and the Lady (1951), The Tarnished Angels (1957), and John Paul Jones (1959). He earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance as a self-destructive alcoholic in Written on the Wind (1956). In 1959 he gained a whole new flock of fans when he was cast as humorless federal agent Elliot Ness in TV's The Untouchables, which ran for four seasons and won him an Emmy award. He continued playing taciturn leading roles in such TV series as Name of the Game (1969-1971), Most Wanted (1976-1977), and Strike Force (1981), and from 1987 to 2002 was the no-nonsense host of the TV anthology Unsolved Mysteries. Not nearly as stoic and serious in real life, Stack was willing to spoof his established screen image in Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979) and Zucker-Abraham-Zucker's Airplane! (1980). The warmer side of Robert Stack could be glimpsed in the TV informational series It's a Great Life (1985), which he hosted with his wife Rosemarie, and in his 1980 autobiography, Straight Shooting. Though film appearances grew increasingly sporatic through the 1990s, Stack remained a familiar figure to television viewers thanks to syndicated reruns of Unsolved Mysteries well into the new millennium. Memorable film roles in 1990s included lending his voice to Beavis and Butthead Do America (1996) and appearing as himself in the 1999 comedy drama Mumford. In October of 2002 Stack underwent successful radiation treatment for prostate cancer. On May 14, 2003, Robert Stack's wife Rosemarie found the actor dead in their Los Angeles home. He was 84.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Spent the early years of his childhood in Paris, France, with his mother and didn't learn to speak English until he was 6 years old. Was fluent in French and Italian.
- Was mentored by Hollywood heavyweights Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and others during his childhood because his mother wanted him to have male role models after the death of his father.
- Created a stir in his first movie when he gave teen actress Deanna Durbin her first on-screen kiss in 1939's First Love.
- Served as a gunnery officer in the Navy during World War II.
- Starred in the first commercial 3D movie, Bwana Devil (1952).
- Was inducted into the National Skeet Shooting Hall of Fame in 1971.
- Released autobiography titled Straight Shooting, cowritten with Mark Evans, in 1980.