We hate to overlook any specimen of leading man dating from Hollywood’s Golden Era.
And while never a major star Robert Stack was certainly present on screen from the late 30s until the 1960s. Most today recall Stack from his superb work in television. He was one of the few actors who played the lead in four series, all crime dramas.
Best remembered, of course, is his rendition of valiant Treasury Agent Elliot Ness on the hugely popular The Untouchables, which ran over four seasons from 1959. This was the show that made Stack a household name after years as a stalwart working in the indeterminate feature film mines between key supporting player and minor leading man.
On tv he emerged as a genuine STAR. In addition to winning a prime-time Emmy for his Untouchables performance, Stack was the lead in 1968’s Name of the Game, 1976’s Most Wanted and in 1981’s Strike Force. (He also had a part in Falcon Crest and hosted the 1989 reality program, Unsolved Mysteries.)
But Stack’s extensive feature career (he accumulated 95 credits in all on the big and small screens) includes some notable pictures.
One of our favorites is the memorable Jack Benny comedy, 1942’s To Be Or Not To Be, a marvelous Ernst Lubitsch outing that provides a sparkling performance from Stack and Benny’s costar Carole Lombard. Benny cavorts as the ham Shakespearean actor in a theatrical troupe that finds itself playing Warsaw during the WWII Nazi occupation of Poland.
The movie was released a month after Lombard was killed in a plane crash, returning from a WWII bond drive in the midwest. Gable never got over her death. Above is a young Stack as Lombard’s love interest. (The actor was born in Los Angeles in 1919.)
A highlight of his feature film career — which netted him a best supporting actor Oscar nomination — was his portrayal of a wastrel playboy in Douglas Sirk’s glossy 1956 melodrama, Written On The Wind, a thinly disguised tale based on the life and loves of torch singer Libby Holman. Above is Stack looking none too happy with costar Lauren Bacall.
A picture we like is the 1960 disaster title, The Last Voyage, in which Dorothy Malone and Stack are cast as vacationing parents of a young daughter who find themselves literally staring down a deluge aboard their cruise liner. Various loud mishaps afflict their ship, and Malone finds herself trapped in a tiny stateroom as the water level rises.
She is underneath fallen debris, and is pinned — can’t move. It’s up to Stack to find vitally necessary help from a frazzled crew coping with multiple disasters in the thick of the chaos on the doomed ship. Will they make it in time?
And here’s a factoid Joe dug up: It was Stack in his 1939 movie debut in First Love, who provided Deanna Durbin (above) with her first onscreen kiss. As to why this event commanded front page attention — which it did at the time — well, it musta been a slow news day. Says Joe: It was a big deal because it was.
Stack led an uncommonly (for Hollywood) tranquil personal life. Here he is pictured with his one and only spouse, Rosemarie Bowe, who looks good enough to be the actress she was at MGM and Columbia. The marriage began in 1956, and lasted until Stack’s death of heart failure in 2003 at the age of 84.