Join Us for 8 Fascinating Facts About Robert Stack

Robert Stack as Eliot Ness in The Untouchables in 1960.
Robert Stack as Eliot Ness in The Untouchables in 1960.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

One generation knows him as Eliot Ness, the relentless real-life lawman pursuing Al Capone in the popular 1960s television drama The Untouchables. Another might recognize him as one of several dramatic actors used to great comic effect in 1980’s Airplane! But for most people, Robert Stack will forever be known as the host of Unsolved Mysteries, the compelling true crime series that ran on NBC from 1987 to 1997 and then in various iterations on other networks.

For all his prowess as the face and voice of Unsolved Mysteries, Stack, who died in 2003, was a career actor with a long and storied background. As fans of his trademark show gear up for new installments on Netflix beginning July 1, we’re taking a look at some of the most compelling Stack facts.

1. Robert Stack didn’t learn to speak English until he was 7 years old.

Actor Robert Stack is pictured in a 1940 publicity photo
Robert Stack in 1940.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Robert Langford Stack was born in Los Angeles on January 13, 1919 to father James and mother Elizabeth, Stack was a fifth-generation Californian but became a young man of the world early. After his parents divorced when he was 3 years old, he remained with his mother and moved with her to Europe so she could study opera. There, he learned both French and Italian as a child. English was his third language, one he didn’t learn until he was 7 years old after returning to California when his parents had reconciled.

2. Robert Stack was a national skeet shooting champion.

In high school, and later while attending the University of Southern California, Stack was heavily involved in athletics. He was on the school’s polo team and had also established himself as a national champion in skeet shooting, the sport that involves using firearms to target clay skeets. At 16, Stack was a member of the All-American Skeet Rifle Team, setting two world records and becoming the National Skeet Champion. At USC, Stack supplemented his sports pursuits with drama classes, giving him his first taste of performing. While standing off to one side of the stage at a talent show, a talent scout for Universal approached Stack and signed him to a studio contract.

Later, actor and family friend Clark Gable encouraged Stack to get into acting and to use any power or influence drawn from the profession to help people. “If you kick people around,” Gable told him, “I’m going to kick you.”

3. World War II changed Robert Stack’s career.

Actor Robert Stack is pictured with actress Wanda Hendrix in a publicity still for 1951's 'My Outlaw Brother'
Robert Stack with Wanda Hendrix in 1951's My Outlaw Brother.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Stack made his film debut in 1939’s First Love, giving popular teen actress Deanna Durbin her first onscreen kiss. Because of Durbin’s fame, the romantic interlude created a lot of publicity for Stack. Other roles followed, including one as a Nazi in 1940’s The Mortal Storm and 1942’s To Be or Not to Be. While these early roles—even as a member of the Reich—featured Stack’s boyish demeanor, serving as a gunnery officer and instructor during World War II shaved much of the adolescent charm off his screen presence. When he returned to work following the war, Stack settled into his now-familiar screen persona of a strong authority figure.

4. Robert Stack was in the very first 3D movie.

Though stereoscopic films that created an illusion of depth had been in circulation since the turn of the 20th century, 1952’s Bwana Devil is believed to have been the first feature-length 3D color movie, a feat accomplished by using technology dubbed "Natural Vision." In Bwana Devil, Stack plays Jock Howard, a railroad worker desperate to capture the man-eating lions threatening the construction of a railroad in Africa. The film helped kick off the brief 3D movie craze of the 1950s that led to audiences wearing polarized lenses, often for horror films like André De Toth's House of Wax (1953).

5. Desi Arnaz asked Robert Stack to take on the role of Eliot Ness.

Actor Robert Stack is pictured with actor Bruce Gordon in a publicity still for 'The Untouchables' in 1962
Robert Stack with Bruce Gordon in The Untouchables in 1962.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In the late 1950s, I Love Lucy star and Desilu co-owner Desi Arnaz, husband of Lucille Ball, approached Stack to star as famous 1930s lawman Eliot Ness in The Untouchables. Stack, who felt doing television might damage his film career—he had even earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for 1956’s Written on the Wind—initially turned it down. He thought the title was “stupid” and worried what would become of the show once Ness captured nemesis Al Capone. But once he read scripts for the series, he changed his mind.

The tough, no-frills Ness ultimately became Stack’s signature role. The show was so popular that a catchphrase, “Call Eliot Ness!,” entered the lexicon. In the UK, where the show was extremely popular, teenagers took to wearing the pinstripe suits and fedoras favored by the onscreen gangsters. Stack was even approached on the street by people he assumed were actual criminals, who insisted that they would make good actors on the show.

The series aired from 1959 until 1963. Stack later reprised the role in an NBC TV movie, The Return of Eliot Ness, in 1991.

6. Robert Stack wasn’t too thrilled about Kevin Costner playing Eliot Ness.

In 1987, a few years before Stack returned to the role of Ness, a big-screen adaptation of The Untouchables premiered with Kevin Costner as the lawman and Robert De Niro as Al Capone. Initially, Stack was slightly annoyed by the casting. “They got a bright young actor to play Ness, which at first peed me off,” Stack told The Los Angeles Times in 1991. Stack eventually realized the film kept Ness on the minds of the public, allowing him to revive his own interpretation for the TV movie in 1991.

7. Robert Stack once participated in a magic trick for David Copperfield.

Before his mullet-adorned success in the 1980s, David Copperfield was still a bit of an unknown commodity in 1979 when he asked several celebrities, including Robert Stack, to participate in his Magic of David Copperfield special for CBS. In the clip above, you can see Stack being amazed by Copperfield forcing a cigarette through a coin.

8. Robert Stack got a little annoyed with NBC over Unsolved Mysteries.

Unsolved Mysteries was an early and dependable hit for NBC. With Stack hosting and narrating reenactments of tales involving crime, lost loves, missing heirs, amnesia, and the paranormal, viewers were hooked on the show’s ability to present a compelling story and then solicit their help in solving a case. (“Perhaps you can help solve a mystery,” Stack intoned.) But in 1995, Stack was annoyed to find that Unsolved Mysteries was being moved from its Wednesday time slot to different evenings, prompting confusion among viewers who thought the show had been canceled.

Stack even sent in a response to the Los Angeles Times reacting to a critical article about the show winding down and pointed to the scheduling confusion. “The bottom line is we truly have become an ‘Unsolved Mystery’ to our viewers,” Stack wrote. He also pointed out the show was up 43 percent in viewers on Friday nights compared to prior NBC programming. Unsolved Mysteries remained on the air with Stack hosting through 2002.

10 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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Hamilton Cast Discusses the History and Impact of the Musical in New Disney+ Exclusive

The real work begins after the final bow.
The real work begins after the final bow.
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

On Friday, July 10, Disney+ will release Hamilton: History Has Its Eyes on You, a conversation with key original cast members and creators that covers everything from personal memories to thoughts on how the musical can expand our understanding of America’s past.

Moderated by Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, the program features Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Thomas Kail, Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr), Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler), Daveed Diggs (Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson), and Christopher Jackson (George Washington).

Also in attendance is Annette Gordon-Reed, a Harvard University history professor and leading scholar on Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with his enslaved maid, Sally Hemings. Hemings is mentioned briefly in Hamilton, and the contentious topic of slavery crops up in a few pithy insults directed at various characters, but some viewers have criticized how the production largely glosses over the issues and glorifies the Founding Fathers as sympathetic and respectable leaders.

Hamilton: History Has Its Eyes on You is a chance for Miranda and his team to discuss the decisions that went into fitting a long, complex history into a series of musical numbers—and for Gordon-Reed to offer a historian’s perspective on how we should interpret Hamilton.

“The really important thing, I think, is for people after they’ve watched it to go and find out more,” she says in a preview clip on Good Morning America. (If you’re wondering where to start, you might want to take a closer look at some of those history-packed lyrics.)

You can stream the special starting tomorrow, which leaves plenty of time to watch the musical on Disney+ again … and again. If you still need a subscription to Disney+, head here to sign up.

[h/t Good Morning America]