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 since 1991 has been 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! (1982).