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.

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.

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.

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.

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14 Burning Facts About Lucifer

Tom Ellis stars as Lucifer Morningstar in Lucifer.
Tom Ellis stars as Lucifer Morningstar in Lucifer.

He's in the details, he makes deals, and he lost an epic fiddle contest in Georgia. Lucifer Morningstar (not a stage name) has played a lot of roles in popular culture, but he had never been a nightclub-owning amateur detective in Los Angeles until he got his own TV show on Fox in 2016.

In Lucifer, Tom Ellis plays the titular demon, who has left hell and the punishment business in order to get a little Earthside R&R in the City of Angels. Just as Dracula went from rotten-skinned monster to debonair seducer in literature, Lucifer’s version of the devil (who comes to us courtesy of Californication creator Tom Kapinos) is all tailored suits, wry smiles, and addictive flirtation. He’s also very, very persuasive and people just have a tendency to tell him their deepest, darkest secrets—which is the next best thing to having a superpower when you're trying to solve mysteries alongside a cynical cop (played by Lauren German) … even if she is immune to those charms.

As you catch up with the hit series on Netflix (season 5 dropped in late August) and prepare for its upcoming sixth and final season, here are some facts to know about Lucifer.

1. Supernatural predicted Lucifer’s arrival.

The long-running, beloved genre show Supernatural welcomed Lucifer into the world with a joke. In "The Devil in the Details," episode 10 of Supernatural's 11th season, their show's Lucifer (played by Mark Pellegrino) joked that if he ever got out of his cage in hell, he'd move to Los Angeles to solve crimes. Fans of Eric Kripke’s series might have been surprised five days later when Lucifer's first episode landed on Fox and showed the titular demon (played here by Tom Ellis) doing exactly that.

2. Though Lucifer isn’t a Supernatural spinoff, both shows exist in a similar universe.

Though Supernatural and Lucifer aren’t officially related, both shows occupy somewhat of a shared universe and feature some of the same mythical characters. They also clearly have a shared affinity, as both shows have made sly nods to each other over the years.

3. Lucifer is a loose adaptation of a Neil Gaiman comic book character.

Tom Ellis and Aimee Garcia in Lucifer.John P. Fleenor/Netflix © 2020

The main character of Lucifer is less an adaptation of the embodiment of evil from religious texts and more an official riff on the Lucifer that Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth, and Mike Dringenberg created for The Sandman comic book series for DC Comics. Lucifer eventually got his own spin-off comic book series.

4. Lucifer star Tom Ellis had no idea the show was a loose adaptation of a Neil Gaiman comic book character.

When asked if he used the Gaiman comics as research for his character in Lucifer, Ellis admitted that he wasn’t even aware the show was adapted from a comic book series. "It is a loose adaptation," he told Digital Spy in 2016. “I hadn't used anything from the comic to start with. But since then Neil Gaiman, who was behind the original incarnation, has got in touch with me. He told me he really enjoyed the pilot, so that was nice—it was almost like one of the parents giving us their blessing.”

5. Watch Lucifer carefully and you’ll spot some Neil Gaiman Easter eggs.

To honor its original creator, Lucifer has featured nods to some of Gaiman’s other work. Most notably, Chloe (Lauren German) reads Gaiman's Coraline to her daughter Trixie (Scarlett Estevez), and references Trixie conning her father into reading her "the book about the sneezing panda," which is a reference to Gaiman's book Chu's Day.

6. There was a petition to stop Lucifer from airing before it ever even premiered.

Tom Ellis stars in Lucifer.John P. Fleenor/Netflix

Before a single episode of Lucifer had ever even aired, the conservative group One Million Moms rallied to get the show canceled. They garnered 11,000 signatures on a petition that objected to the series because they felt it would glamorize the devil. The incident was a bit of déjà vu for Gaiman, since Sandman faced similar calls for cancellation when it was published.

7. There was also a petition to save Lucifer from cancellation.

When Lucifer was canceled after three seasons (due to low ratings), fans fought back and kept the series alive with the social media hashtag #SaveLucifer. Fox sold the series to Netflix, which produced a fourth season with a penultimate episode titled "Save Lucifer." Netflix then renewed the series for a fifth season, which premiered on August 21, 2020 and was initially scheduled to be its last. However, in June—just two months ahead of the season 5 premiere—Netflix surprised and delighted the show’s massive fan base by announcing that they had greenlit a sixth and (this time definitely) final season.

8. Lucifer's Tom Ellis comes from a family of pastors.

Irony works in mysterious ways. While appearing on The Rich Eisen Show, Ellis explained that while he's playing the Lord of Hell, his father, sister, and uncle are all pastors. They're all also big fans of his acting work.

9. There are no Christmas episodes of Lucifer.

That may not be surprising given the main character's predilections, but it's surprising considering that Christmas-themed shows are a staple of the TV industry in search of extra nudges to entice their viewership. Refusing to make Christmas-themed episodes is a big diversion from the norm. It's a bold choice, but it falls in line with the show never mentioning Jesus Christ (not even when someone stubs a toe).

10. Lucifer never smokes on the show.

Tom Ellis as Lucifer Morningstar, D.B. Woodside as Amenadiel, and Lauren German as Chloe Decker in Lucifer.John P. Fleenor/Netflix © 2020

Beginning with the very first episode, there are several times where Lucifer can be seen just as he's about to light a cigarette, stubbing one out, or tapping ash into an ashtray, but you'll never see him actually take a drag and inhale. Still, even the fact that he's got them raises the important question: Why does the devil need to smoke?

11. Lauren German describes Chloe and Lucifer's relationship as "sad fireworks."

There's no better way to say it. Since the beginning, their reluctant partnership and blooming intimacy has been an exploration of conflicting emotions. That includes the looming revelation of something Lucifer has been telling Chloe since the beginning: That he's the devil. While describing their relationship as "sad fireworks," German also told TV Guide, “There's a lot of love and respect there, and her vulnerability is more present than ever before—but that can often be the most intoxicating element in a relationship. Someone that keeps you on your toes can be thrilling.”

12. Lucifer's nightclub has a fitting name.

Lucifer means "light bringer" in Latin so it's perfect that his club, Lux, is also the SI standard unit for measuring luminescence. Plus, Club Hell was already taken.

13. Lucifer star Tom Ellis has got some serious air piano chops.

D.B. Woodside and Tom Ellis in Lucifer.John P. Fleenor/Netflix © 2020

One of the perks of owning your own nightclub is that you can play piano whenever you want. And if you're immortal, you've got all the time in the universe to take lessons. (Just ask Groundhog Day’s Phil Connors.) Lucifer plays and sings a lot on the show, and while it's Ellis doing the singing, it's not him at the keys. “I’m very good at air piano, let me put it that way!" Ellis told TV Insider about his talent for faking it.

14. Lucifer drives a 1962 Chevrolet Corvette C1.

If you're wondering the make and model of Lucifer's automotive object of desire, now you know. The classic is sleek, a little dangerous, and has a mix of sharp angles and softer edges, matching the main character nicely. Plus, it's the last of its kind: 1962 was the final year the C1 chassis was available on the Corvette.