No one, including Robert Stack, ever expected Robert Stack to win an Oscar, and he was as surprised as everyone else when he received a nomination for “Written On The Wind.” When he looks at Lauren Bacall and asks about "having fun" with her, audiences wondered: "Could this granite-jawed guy HAVE any fun EVER?" I'm taking about Robert Stack the actor here: Everyone knew the real Robert Stack had plenty of fun his whole life. He knew show business was hooey and that may have helped his endurance over the long haul: He worked constantly his entire career.
There's a reason why his career is more than a footnote as the 20th century Prince Charming who gave Deanna Durbin her first onscreen kiss in 1939's “First Love.” Maybe it was the twinkle in his eyes or the fact that he was a real-life pal of Carole Lombard. Lombard showed him how to relax in front of a camera when they made “To Be Or Not To Be” in 1942. As the guy who makes out with Carole backstage while her husband Jack Benny is performing soliloquies onstage, Stack is quite funny. Everyone was surprised when Stack generated so much laughter in 1980's “Airplane,” but as he once acknowledged, even the cuckoo in “Written On The Wind” is closer to the real Robert Stack than his most famous character, Eliot Ness in “The Untouchables.” An actor who keeps his fans happy for 64 years has got to have funny bones somewhere, in spite of his obvious (and deceptive!) stoicism. If you're still unconvinced, rent “Written On The Wind” and try to plow through it without laughing all the way through it.
© 2003 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 5/21/03