RARA-AVIS: R.I.P. Robert Stack

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 15 May 2003

I just found out that Robert Stack passed away earlier today. If Jack Webb's Joe Friday is broadcasting's Gold Medal cop, I think a case could be made that Robert Stack's Eliot Ness captured the Silver.

Robert Stack, through his forceful performance during the four years that the noir-ish series ran, did more than anyone else, more than sportswriter Oscar Fraley who convinced Ness to write an autobiography and collaborated with him on it, more than TV producer Desi Arnaz who bought the book for adaptation as a TV drama, more, possibly, even then Eliot Ness himself, to turn the Depression-era gangbuster into a legend, into, arguably, the most famous policeman of the 20th Century.

Stack could never quite shake the role. In THE NAME OF THE GAME, in which he played a former FBI agent who becomes editor of a true-crime magazine, he seemd to be playing Ness as a journalist. In MOST WANTED and STRIKE FORCE, in both of which he played a sternly incorruptible policeman who commanded an elite squad of special investigators, he essentially played Ness in modern-day dress under different names. He finally returned to the role in a made-for-TV reunion movie, THE RETURN OF ELIOT NESS.

If you're only familiar with the Ness/Capone conflict through the Kevin Costner mocie, I highly recommend that you track down the 2-part DESILU PLAYHOUSE presentation that directly adapted Ness's book and served as the pilot for the subsequent series. It's available on VHS under the title THE SCARFACE MOB
(under which it was released to theatres). Not only is it closer to the actual events than the 1987 movie, it's in virtually every respect the equal (and in a few respects, the superior) of that Oscar-winning film.

It seems fitting that Mr. Stack should've passed away on Police Memorial Day.

Rest in peace, sir.


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