Most people are familiar with The Untouchables either through the TV series starring Robert Stack or the Brian DePalma movie starring Kevin Costner. Both vehicles provide inaccurate information about the Untouchables and about the leader of the group of men, Eliot Ness.
In the film, Eliot Ness is played by Kevin Costner. He is seen as a family man with two biological children and a wife named Katherine. He has a daughter and his wife is pregnant and later in the movie he gives birth to a son. The first big mistake is that Eliot Ness had three wives, but none of them were named Katherine. He never had biological children although his third wife and he adopted a three-year-old boy.
Ness never killed anyone as seen in the movie. He also did not trust for a moment the police in the city of Chicago where Al Capone had everything in his pocket. Ness pursued Capone viciously, but never confronted him at the Lexington Hotel.
The Untouchables were nicknamed after they refused to take a bribe. It was at this time that the name of Eliot Ness became known to the Chicago public. Before that, they were a covert operation. Ness and his team of ten men, each selected for the job, worked out of the Transportation Building. They were not associated with the police nor introduced to the police department as they worked as an undercover team associated with the Treasury Department.
In the television series, Robert Stack plays Ness and is more realistic in his portrayal, though much older than the man he plays. Stack is often seen angry and in his office for quite a while. His wife is Betty on the TV show and they have a son. He is closer to the real-life persona of Elliot Ness than he is in the film, as he is rarely seen at home and he and his men are often seen working late into the night. He rarely rings the phone in the office when Stack doesn’t answer it.
Creative license has been taken with Eliot Ness since his death in 1957 and even before. When his biographer, Oscar Fraley, was writing his book, Ness didn’t mention the fact that he had been divorced twice or remember much about his days in Chicago chasing Al Capone. Fraley invented the entire personality that he lives on to this day.
A biography of the prohibition agent details his downfall, but gives very little information about the man he was, as when the biography was published his wives and close friends were dead. Some fictional books have taken more liberties with the person he was by basing some of his writing on the biography that was written in the late 1990s.
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