Classic Television: The Untouchables

Robert Stack portrayed Eliot Ness in The Untouchables a television show which debuted in 1959received opposition from Italian-American groups and Frank Sinatra.

The Untouchables first appeared on television 51 years ago when the first show aired in October of 1959. It was attacked by Italian groups who thought the violence in the shows was excessive and pictured Italians in a bad light.

The show was famous for the drive-by shootings in the early seasons but the show was toned down in the fourth season to placate the critics who thought the show was focusing too much on violence.

Fred MacMurray Among Actors Vying For Role Of Ness

Stack won the role over such diverse actors Van Heflin, Fred MacMurray and Van Johnson. I can’t even imagine MacMurray in the role.

Jerry Paris appeared as agent Martin Flaherty but left early in the run to become the next door neighbor of Rob and Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show. He went on to direct 84 episodes of the show and 237 episodes of Happy Days.

Neville Brand as Al Capone

Neville Brand was Al Capone in the series while veteran actor Lloyd Nolan portrayed Bugs Moran an enemy of Capone.

Drive-By Shootings

The drive-by shootings in the show still stand out in my memory 51 years later. It was a realistic part of the underworld crime life but the violence was understandably not received well by Italian-American groups who perceived the show to show Italians in the worst possible light.

Threat To Kill Desi Arnaz

Sam Giancana reportedly had a hit man lined up to kill Desi Arnaz who was running Desilu Studios at the time which was producing The Untouchables.

Frank Sinatra was ordered by the mobsters to try to talk Arnaz into dropping the show. Arnaz told Sinatra to stay out of his business because it was one of the most successful television shows Desilu was producing.

The ratings started to drop in the third season with Sing Along With Mitch starring Mitch Miller causing an erosion of the show’s ratings.

It has been years since I have seen any episodes of the show. The show can’t be seen on any television network today according to

The shows have been released on DVD  for readers interested in seeing the shows again.

The Museum of Broadcasting Communications website devoted to The Untouchables:


Author: Andrew Godfrey

Retired from newspaper work after 38 years. Had served in the Army in Hawaii and Vietnam in the 60's. Am now retired and living in Sulphur, Louisiana.

4 thoughts on “Classic Television: The Untouchables”

  1. Al Capone had a home (fortress) in Couderay, Wisconsin. We visited it a few years ago. Most interesting. But, as eluded to, it was more of a fortress than home. It was on a small lake so Capone could come in by sea plane. He may have had a lot of money, but so what. He was not free to do everyday normal things what with everyone after him.

  2. Very true…gangsters have the lawmen and their enemies gunning for them. Witnesses wouldn’t testify against Capone to stay alive themselves until they got him on the drug charges. I would like to see the fortress in Wisconsin.

  3. One of my favorite shows when I was a kid. To bad they won’t rerun that show. The movie The Untouchables with Kevin Costner was far more violent. How attitudes change over the years.

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