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.

10 Killer Gifts for True Crime Fans

Ulysses Press/Little A
Ulysses Press/Little A

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Humans have a strange and lasting fascination with the dark and macabre. We’re hooked on stories about crime and murder, and if you know one of those obsessives who eagerly binges every true crime documentary and podcast that crosses their path, you’re in luck—we’ve compiled a list of gifts that will appeal to any murder mystery lover.

1. Donner Dinner Party: A Rowdy Game of Frontier Cannibalism!; $15

Chronicle Books/Amazon

The infamous story of the Donner party gets a new twist in this social deduction party game that challenges players to survive and eliminate the cannibals hiding within their group of friends. It’s “lots of fun accusing your friends of eating human flesh and poisoning your food,” one reviewer says.

Buy it: Amazon

2. A Year of True Crime Page-a-Day Calendar; $16

Workman Calendars/Amazon

With this page-a-day calendar, every morning is an opportunity to build your loved one's true crime chops. Feed their morbid curiosity by reading about unsolved cases and horrifying killers while testing their knowledge with the occasional quizzes sprinkled throughout the 313-page calendar (weekends are combined onto one page).

Buy it: Amazon

3. Bloody America: The Serial Killers Coloring Book; $10

Kolme Korkeudet Oy/Amazon

Some people use coloring books to relax, while others use them to dive into the grisly murders of American serial killers. Just make sure to also gift some red colored pencils before you wrap this up for your bestie.

Buy it: Amazon

4. The Serial Killer Cookbook: True Crime Trivia and Disturbingly Delicious Last Meals from Death Row's Most Infamous Killers and Murderers; $15

Ulysses Press/Amazon

This macabre cookbook contains recipes for the last meals of some of the world’s most famous serial killers, including Ted Bundy, Aileen Wuornos, and John Wayne Gacy. This cookbook covers everything from breakfast (seared steak with eggs and toast, courtesy of Ted Bundy) to dessert (chocolate cake, the last request of Bobby Wayne Woods). Each recipe includes a short description of the killer who requested the meal.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Ripped from the Headlines!: The Shocking True Stories Behind the Movies’ Most Memorable Crimes; $15

Little A/Amazon

In this book, true crime historian Harold Schechter sorts out the truth and fiction that inspired some of Hollywood’s best-known murder movies—including Psycho (1960), Scream (1996), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), and The Hills Have Eyes (1977). As Schechter makes clear, sometimes reality is even a little more sick and twisted than the movies show.

Buy it: Amazon

6. The Deadbolt Mystery Society Monthly Box; $22/month


Give the murder mystery lover in your life the opportunity to solve a brand-new case every single month. Each box includes the documents and files for a standalone mystery story that can be solved alone or with up to three friends. To crack the case, you’ll also need a laptop, tablet, or smartphone connected to the internet—each mystery includes interactive content that requires scanning QR codes or watching videos.

Buy it: Cratejoy

7. In Cold Blood; $10


Truman Capote’s 1965 classic about the murder of a Kansas family is considered by many to be the first true-crime nonfiction novel ever published. Capote’s book—still compulsively readable despite being written more than 50 years ago—follows the mysterious case from beginning to end, helping readers understand the perspectives of the victims, investigators, and suspects in equal time.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered: The Definitive How-To Guide; $13

Forge Books/Amazon

Any avid true crime fan has at least heard of My Favorite Murder, the popular podcast that premiered in 2016. This book is a combination of practical wisdom, true crime tales, and personal stories from the podcast’s comedic hosts. Reviewers say it’s “poignant” and “worth every penny.”

Buy it: Amazon

9. I Like to Party Mug; $12


This cheeky coffee mug says it all. Plus, it’s both dishwasher- and microwave-safe, making it a sturdy gift for the true crime lover in your life.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Latent Fingerprint Kit; $60

Crime Scene Store/Amazon

Try your hand (get it?!) at being an amateur detective with this kit that lets you collect fingerprints left on most surfaces. It may not be glamorous, but it could help you solve the mystery of who put that practically empty carton back in the refrigerator when it barely contained enough milk for a cup of coffee.

Buy it: Amazon

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15 Extremely Valuable Funko Pop! Figures That Might Be Hiding In Your Collection

In the 1990s, collectors salivated over Beanie Babies. In the 2000s, it was Pokemon. Today, the collectibles market is dominated by Funko Pops!, the ubiquitous vinyl figures that turn pop culture characters into block-headed, saucer-eyed cute bombs.

While Funko has a deep bench of licenses, many figures are exclusive to retailers, available for a limited time, or are otherwise hard to find. After perusing recent auction sales and Funko online price guides, we’ve excavated a few figures that are being bought and sold for stacks of cash larger than the toys themselves—and could be hiding in your very own collection. Take a look at 15 of the most sought after and valuable Funko Pop! figures that could net you a small fortune on the secondary market.

1. Ghost Rider Metallic Freddy Funko // $4210

The spirit of vengeance was unleashed as an ultra-exclusive variant edition that's a mash-up of the Marvel hero with Funko mascot Freddy Funko. Released in 2013, it was limited to just 12 figures. As a result, it’s a high-ticket item. The Pop Price Guide, which tracks Funko Pop! values and sales, estimates it at $4210.

2. She-Ra // $690


The warrior princess of the 1980s Masters of the Universe spin-off cartoon made a splash in 2013. The figure wasn’t a limited edition, but so many fans snapped her up that she’s hard to find.

3. Mike Wazowski Glow-in-the-Dark // $1960

The jolly green creature from 2001’s Monsters, Inc. was available in a limited glow-in-the-dark edition beginning in 2011, but collectors had to go on a scavenger hunt—only 480 were produced.

4. Reggae Rasta // $1200


This Bob Marley-inspired figure has been sought after by collectors for sporting a limited-edition green outfit instead of the multi-colored one in the image seen above. That regular version sells for around $400.

5. Holographic Darth Maul // $5070

The horned villain from The Phantom Menace, 1999’s Star Wars prequel, got the glow-in-the-dark treatment from Funko in 2012. San Diego Comic-Con attendees had first crack at the variant, which was limited to 480 figures.

6. Master Chief // $650


The hero of the Halo 4 video game was a Blockbuster Video exclusive and commands $650 on the open market.

7. Ken Griffey Jr. Bronze // $3150

One of Major League Baseball’s most celebrated players got the Pop! treatment in 2018, with just 24 gold-finish variants made for fans at Seattle's Safeco Field (which was renamed T-Mobile Park in late 2018). The current market value is $3150.

8. Headless Ned Stark // $980


One of the most tragic and unexpected deaths on Game of Thrones was immortalized in this 2013 San Diego Comic-Con exclusive, which features the head of the Stark family and his detachable melon. The Pop Price Guide has valued Stark at $980.

9. Black Ranger Freddy Funko // $1850

This hybrid of Funko mascot Freddy Funko and the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers was limited to fans attending the Funko Fundays event at 2017's San Diego Comic-Con. Only 24 were produced, which is why they’re extremely difficult to find, even on auction sites.

10. The Notorious B.I.G. Metallic // $1930


The late rap headliner got the deluxe treatment in 2011, with a metallic coat and hat version that was limited to 240 pieces. (The regular version is pictured.) Its listed value is $1930.

11. Batman Blue Metallic // $1400

The Dark Knight is looking a little more ostentatious in this 2010 San Diego Comic-Con offering, with a shiny blue cowl and accessories.

12. 1970s Elvis Presley Glow-in-the-Dark // $2170


A 1970s-era Elvis (above) comes in a special glow-in-the-dark version that has an estimated value of $2170. Another limited chase figure that depicts him at the height of his powers in the 1950s will run you as much as $1700.

13. Clown Dumbo // $5900

The ear-shaming of Disney’s 1941 animated classic Dumbo continues to strike a chord with people. The 2013 edition of Dumbo in clown make-up was limited to 48 pieces for San Diego Comic-Con attendees.

14. Planet Arlia Vegeta // $3500


The flame-haired Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z was exclusive to fans at the 2014 New York Comic Con and the Toy Tokyo store in New York City.

15. Bob’s Big Boy // $850

This iconic advertising character was a San Diego Comic Con exclusive in 2016. Only 1000 were made.

This story was updated in 2020.