Classic Television: The Untouchables 1959-1963

Robert Stack as Eliot Ness 1919-2003

The Untouchables first appeared on television in 1959 on the ABC television network and aired its last show in 1963. The show was set in the 1930’s during the prohibition era. Robert Stack portrayed investigator Eliot Ness, who was a real life investigator in Chicago during the 30’s.

The real Eliot Ness 1903-1957


Eliot Ness faced off with some of the best known criminals of the Prohibition era in Chicago and Robert Stack did an excellent job of portraying the lawman on The Untouchables television series.

The show was produced by Desilu Productions and Desi Arnaz was one of the executive producers of the show. The Untouchables ended its run on television 50 years ago, but is not seen on television today, that I am aware of. It was one of the most violent shows on television during its run. It also drew criticism from the Italian community, who thought the show was portraying Italians in a negative light. Frank Sinatra was one of those, who was highly critical of the show.

Arnaz came close to being killed by a hitman, which is mentioned in this paragraph from


According to testimony from Jimmy ‘The Weasel’ Fratianno, a Mafia boss turned FBI informant, the Chicago family of the Mafia ordered the assassination of the show’s producer Desi Arnaz because they didn’t like, (a) the fact that the success of the show was focusing attention on the Mafia, and (b) the show’s portrayal of Italians. Fratianno said that two hitmen hid themselves near Arnaz’s house one night waiting for him to show up, but he never did. Shortly afterwards the assassination order was rescinded when it was realized that Arnaz’s murder would cause the Mafia more trouble than it was worth.   

The role of Eliot Ness was turned down by movie actors Van Johnson and Van Heflin. Cliff Robertson, Fred MacMurray (My Three Sons) and Jack Lord (Hawaii Five-O) tried out for the part.

Walter Winchell narrated the show for $25,000 in the 119 episodes, which totaled $2,975,000 million over the life of the series.

Bruce Gordon 1916-2011

Bruce Gordon appeared as gangster Frank Nitti in 28 episodes of the series. Other well known actors who appeared in other episodes included Robert Redford, Frank Sutton, better known as Sgt. Carter on the Gomer Pyle television series, Edward Asner of Mary Tyler Moore and Lou Grant fame, Telly Savalas who would later star in Kojak and Peter Falk later to be seen in Columbo.

YouTube has some full episodes available for viewing. However viewers should be warned that some scenes are extremely violent and that these shows are not recommended for children.






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.

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