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PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Robert Blake: From Little Rascal to Real-Life Drama

Aired May 19, 2001 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: He was a Little Rascal as a child.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LITTLE RASCALS")

ROBERT BLAKE, ACTOR: Oh, boy, am I going to catch a lot of fish with this!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Later he played a wisecracking cop who asked all the tough questions as TV's "Baretta."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BARETTA")

BLAKE: Yeah, this is Baretta.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Now, his wife is found murdered, and real-life cops are asking him questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARLAND BRAUN, BLAKE'S ATTORNEY: They say they're investigating all possibilities, but they're really focusing on Robert Blake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The story of Robert Blake, now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

DARYN KAGAN, HOST: I'm Daryn Kagan. Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

Friday, May 4, the body of a woman is found shot to death, killed as she sat in her car. It's a murder made all the more sensational because the dead woman was the wife of actor Robert Blake.

The former TV and film star now finds himself squarely in the spotlight as police look for answers to the killing.

Sharon Collins narrates our story on Robert Blake, a man who's often led life on the edge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SHARON COLLINS, NARRATOR (voice-over): It was a gruesome scene. In the end, paramedics could not save the victim, 44-year-old Bonny Bakley. She had been shot twice at close range while sitting in a car after having dinner with her husband, 67-year-old actor Robert Blake.

Police swarmed the crime scene looking for clues to the shooting, even consoling a near-hysterical Blake. Blake had summoned a neighborhood resident, filmmaker Sean Stannick (ph), to call 911 when he found his wife bleeding to death in the car.

SEAN STANNICK: He's frantic, he's in agony, he's screaming, "You got to help me, call 911, my wife's been hurt."

COLLINS: But before long, Blake himself was drawing suspicion.

HARLAND BRAUN, BLAKE'S ATTORNEY: We want LAPD to investigate Robert Blake, because the more they investigate, they'll find out he didn't do it.

COLLINS: Earlier that evening, Blake and Bakley had dinner at Vitello's, a local Italian restaurant Blake had eaten at for years. Owners had even named a spinach pasta dish after him.

STEVE RESTIVO, CO-OWNER, VITELLO'S RESTAURANT: He comes here two, three times a week. He comes with his wife, with other people. He loves that we have opera in the back on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

COLLINS: Blake had parked on a dark side street and not in the restaurant's well-lit parking lot. He told police he asked his wife to wait in the car after dinner while he returned to Vitello's in search of a gun he thought he had left there.

LT. RON HARTWELL, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT: And upon his return to the vehicle, he discovered that his wife was injured, and he contacted a neighbor, who called the paramedics.

COLLINS: He was carrying the weapon, he told police, because he believed his wife was being stalked. But his wife's own family members were immediately suspicious.

PETER CARLYON, BAKLEY'S HALF-BROTHER: Well, they had been talking, she had been talking about, Oh, life is just such a headache, I feel I'd almost be better off dead. And he had made the statement to her that she didn't need to worry about it, he already had a bullet with her name on it.

NOAH BLAKE, BLAKE'S SON: But Dad is not a tough guy. I never saw my dad hit anyone, push anyone, swing at anyone, beat anyone up. He never did any of the things that supposed tough guys are reputed for.

COLLINS: Until his wife's murder, Blake was known mainly for his work in films and on television.

Robert Blake came into the world in 1933, with a name that would bust any marquee, Michael James Vicencio Gubatosi (ph).

BLAKE: I started in New York and New Jersey back in 1936 when I was 2 1/2, and I was on the stage with my brother and sister, singing and dancing in vaudeville.

That's me when I was 3 years old., It's called "The Three Little Hillbillies."

COLLINS: The Gubatosis were a showbiz family, but not a caring one, according to Robert Blake.

BLAKE: This is me and my father. He locked me in closets, he threw me against the wall, he made me eat on the floor like a dog, he kept me on a leash. He was insane. And my mother was worse.

COLLINS: In the mid- and late '30s, times were tough. The Gubatosis had hoped for better times out West and headed to California. Child stars like Shirley Temple were the rage.

BLAKE: I loved that wardrobe.

COLLINS: By the time Mickey was 5, he was in Los Angeles, working as an extra and waiting for a chance to be noticed. He says the love he never got from his parents, he found early on.

BLAKE: When I started being an extra, I mean, consciously I could taste the love and the attention that you got when you talked. I didn't know they were acting, I didn't know that there was a difference between an extra and an actor. All I knew is, when you talked, they paid attention to you.

And somebody'd come up and touch you physically and give you a little hug and a little makeup, a little this and a little that.

COLLINS: Mickey Gubatosi soon moved from extra to star, landing the plum role of Mickey in the "Our Gang" series.

BLAKE: And one day there was a kid, this little squirt who couldn't say a line, and the line was, "Confidentially, it stinks." And the director -- "What do I do?" Because in those days, you couldn't change the script without calling Louis B. Mayer.

He said, "Got to get somebody to say this line." I said, "I can say that." And the guy looked around, and I was standing down there. He says, "Who are you?" And I said, "I'm Mickey Gubatosi, and I can say that line, and any other line you got for me to say."

So he gave me my shot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LITTLE RASCALS")

Hiya, fellas.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: Hiya, Mickey.

BLAKE: Oh, boy, am I going to catch a lot of fish with this! (END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Mickey's diminutive size and large talent ensured his success as a child actor. Throughout the 1940s, he appeared in 44 films, including the successful "Red Ryder" Western serial, where he played the Indian sidekick. By then, Mickey Gubatosi had become Bobby Blake.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "RED RYDER")

BLAKE: He sings (ph) where my people died.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE")

HUMPHREY BOGART, ACTOR: Get away from me, you little beggar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: In 1948, 15-year-old Bobby Blake shared screen time with Humphrey Bogart in the film classic "Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE")

BLAKE: One piece of silver.

BOGART: If you don't get away from me, I'm going to throw this water right in your face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: His days as a child star were soon over, but not his career as an actor. When the story of Robert Blake continues, his big break: playing a cold-blooded killer.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Robert Blake, ready to make a big career transition. That part of the story when we return.

But first, an update on someone who knew Blake when everyone still called him Mickey. Here's Where Are They Now?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAKE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), it's Butch!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Fans of "The Little Rascals" loved to hate Big Bully Butch. Tommy Bond played Alfalfa's (ph) nemesis on the show for four years during the 1930s. So where is Tommy Bond now?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SUPERMAN") UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: It's Superman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Bond remained in television after his Rascal days as Jimmy Olson on the "Superman" TV series...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOMMY BOND, ACTOR: Hold it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: ... and as the director of "You Asked for It." Now at age 74, he lives in Los Angeles and serves on the board of directors for the National Comedy Hall of Fame in Florida. He's written a book entitled...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LITTLE RASCALS")

BOND: You're darn right it's Butch.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: PEOPLE IN THE NEWS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLAKE: Pictures of me. That's me and Donna Reed when I was a little kid.

This is cool...

COLLINS (voice-over): A visit to Robert Blake's house is a walk through Hollywood history.

BLAKE: That's Elizabeth Taylor, and that's me. That's Darryl Hickman. And that's the girl I was in love with. I didn't care about Elizabeth Taylor. I was in love with her.

COLLINS: Few in Hollywood can boast of a career as long as Robert Blake's. He's been a working actor for 65 years and counting.

STEPHEN J. CANNELL, PRODUCER: That early training that he got as a child actor was very helpful to his performances, you know. I mean, but he was -- he grew, you know, he grew out of that, grew out of Little Beaver, grew out of those roles and became -- he constantly reinvented himself and became as an adult a completely different kind of performer.

COLLINS: In the 1960s, he landed roles playing everything from a GI making his way up Pork Chop Hill in the movie of the same name, to one of the 12 Apostles in "The Greatest Story Ever Told."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD")

BLAKE: I've been baptized by John the Baptist. I'm Simon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: In 1967, he got his big break. Blake was chosen to play the part of real-life killer Perry Smith in the film adaptation of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." His gripping performance brought him rave reviews. The former childhood extra was now a leading man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "IN COLD BLOOD")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I'm glad you don't hate your father any more.

BLAKE: But I do. I hate him, and I love him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Starring roles now came his way. "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here" in 1969, "Electra Glide in Blue" in '73. He was on the A- list.

BLAKE: Dustin Hoffman's doing "The Graduate," I'm doing "Cold Blood," Warren Beatty's doing "Bonnie and Clyde." And next thing you know, I'm on television.

COLLINS: Blake moved to the small screen with the series "Baretta." Steve Cannell wrote the pilot episode.

CANNELL: He had been signed by Universal to do a series, and he was being told this was the one he was going to do. And he hated my script, you know, which turned out to be the first of about 90 scripts that he hated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BARETTA")

BLAKE: Don't be dumb, man, I'm the heat. Now, lighten up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Blake seemed tailor-made to play the street-smart cop.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BARETTA")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Get out.

BLAKE: Lady, I know what's...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: ... I told you...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANNELL: He ate the film, he was so good. And I was always a little disappointed that Robert didn't see how good the work was that he was doing on "Baretta." But sometimes you're blinded by those things.

COLLINS: "Baretta" was on the air for three years. It made Robert Blake a star and earned him an Emmy in 1975. But he always questioned whether he made the right move to switch from films to TV when he did.

BLAKE: Nothing wrong with a series. But you do a series on the way up or on the way down. You don't do a series when you're there.

COLLINS: Following "Baretta," Robert Blake put his celebrity status to work. Throughout the '70s and '80s, Blake was a high- profile supporter of various political causes, including the United Farm Workers boycott against the grape growers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAKE: Everyone in America one day soon will know that chemicals and pesticides are killing all of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: It was during this time he met Tim Carpenter, a high school teacher and political activist.

TIM CARPENTER: The Robert I knew was the activist who cared a great deal about the issues, who committed himself, as I said earlier, somebody that not only talked the talk but walked the walk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLAKE: When I come here and someone says, Gee, we're so thankful that you're here, we really appreciate your support, it's, like, how did this become their problem, when it's my problem? You know, I don't want my grandchildren born deformed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: For Robert Blake, the '80s was a difficult decade on and off the screen. His 20-year marriage to Sandra Carey (ph), that had produced two children, ended in divorce. Never an easy man to work with even in the best of times, the good roles were quickly drying up.

CANNELL: I've had 40 shows on the air, TV series, and I would say that he ranks up there, you know, as one of the most difficult guys to be -- to do a show with.

COLLINS: He finally hit bottom in 1985 after abruptly walking away from a television series called "Helltown."

BLAKE: I fell apart. I mean, without getting real dramatic, it was the end of the road. And I came as close to really just sticking a .357 in my mouth as anybody could come.

COLLINS: The '90s found Robert Blake in a better frame of mind and looking to recapture his lost childhood. BLAKE: I wanted to be in the Boy Scouts. I wanted a B.B. gun. I wanted a train. I didn't get none of that stuff. So part of my growing up is to go out and get all the stuff I never had, and that's my B.B. gun collection. Those are not regular guns, those are B.B. guns.

COLLINS: He also resurrected his career, beginning with his starring role in 1993 in the CBS movie "Judgment Day: The John List (ph) Story." He portrays a man who murders his wife and children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "JUDGMENT DAY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Give me those damn pills.

BLAKE: Don't swear! I said, don't swear!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: He earned an Emmy nomination for his work in the movie. For Robert Blake, he says performing in front of a camera comes naturally.

BLAKE: The easiest thing I've ever done in my life is acting.

COLLINS: When we return with the story of Robert Blake, he takes a turn again at being a father and husband, and winds up in a real- life drama as sensational as any of his movies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Ahead, a bizarre murder mystery. But before we break, some other celebrity news in the headlines. Here's "Passages."

ANNOUNCER: Former baseball slugger Darryl Strawberry has been given another at-bat. On Thursday, a judge in Florida ordered the one-time rookie of the year sent to a drug treatment center. Strawberry had faced a possible prison sentence for violating his probation on drug charges a fourth time. Warned the judge, "You're at bat in the bottom of the ninth inning with two strikes against you."

Not so funny. Talk show jokester David Letterman lays an egg with a quip about Colombia's top beauty queen. Letterman apologized for an on-air joke that suggested one of Andrea Noceti's (ph) talents was swallowing bags of cocaine. The Miss Universe contestant threatened to sue but seemed to bury the hatchet with her "Late Show" appearance Thursday night.

Want to be like Brad? Well, now you can. Brad Pitt is reportedly launching a clothing line in September. So even if you don't look like the hunky heartthrob, you can at least dress like him.

For more entertainment news, pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BONNY BAKLEY: So I thought, well, when I met Blake, I kind of wanted him, but I kind of didn't, because I -- he wasn't, like, up to par with the looks.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COLLINS (voice-over): On audiotapes of Bonny Bakley released to the media by Robert Blake's attorney, she recorded conversations with friends, leaving a clear impression of just who she thought she was.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BAKLEY: I was the kid that everybody hated in school, because I was, like, poor and couldn't dress good, and, you know, and everybody always made fun over me because I was, like, a real loner type, you know.

So then you grow up saying, Oh, I'll fix them, I'll show them, I'll be a movie star.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COLLINS: But Bakley never did become a movie star. She just figured out a way to become part of the Hollywood scene she had always craved.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BAKLEY: And it was too hard, because I was always falling for somebody. So I figured, well, why not fall for movie stars instead of becoming one, you know?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COLLINS: So she sought out Hollywood celebrities. One of them was Marlon Brando's son, Christian, according to Bakley's brother.

CARLYON: She liked him more because he was younger, he was cuter, and comes from a much better background even though he's a convicted murderer. But...

COLLINS (on camera): Your sister dated him too, then.

CARLYON: She did date him, they did have a brief tawdry little affair.

COLLINS (voice-over): Brando, who pleaded guilty to killing his sister's boyfriend in 1991, spent five years in prison. He has not commented on Bakley or any of her claims. Bakley became pregnant in the fall of 1999. When her baby daughter was born in June of last year, she at first thought it was Brando's and wondered what effect the child would have on their relationship.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BAKLEY: I don't know if the baby's going to work for me or against me, you know. Sometimes they're a pain to have around, you know? So...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, it's his baby, right?

BAKLEY: Yes. But, you know, look, he still may not like it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COLLINS: Later, a DNA test proved Robert Blake, not Brando, as the father. In the end, Bakley pursued a relationship with Blake, 23 years her senior, instead of Brando.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BAKLEY: Who would you go for more if you were me, Blake or Christian?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If I was you...

BAKLEY: Probably feel safer with Blake, because Christian could go off, right? Remember how wacky he was?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COLLINS: Bakley finally married Blake in November of last year, and they named their child Rose.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BAKLEY: He come on real mushy and sweet, like he's really fallen for me. And then, you know -- and I was backing off.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COLLINS: According to Blake's attorney, it wasn't a loving relationship.

BRAUN: He married her because she gave birth to his daughter, and he felt an obligation to, you know, his child to marry the mother. Very old-fashioned.

COLLINS: Bakley moved in with Blake, but stayed in the bungalow behind the actor's four-bedroom house, with the words "Mata Hari Ranch" painted across the face of the building.

CARLYON: Well, basically, before they were married, he didn't really even want to get married, he just -- he wanted to have a relationship with the child and not so much a relationship with her.

COLLINS: Blake began to suspect his bride might have a shady past, according to his attorney, and hired private investigators to check out her background. Bakley's brother didn't deny that his sister had had some legal problems.

CARLYON: She didn't murder and she didn't molest and she didn't rape, and she wasn't a hardened criminal. She was really just a -- I hate to use the word petty, but a petty scam artist.

COLLINS: Bakley had been convicted of processing false identifications used to open post office boxes as part of a mail-order fraud business. Prosecutors say she sought out lonely men to send her money in return for nude photos.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BAKLEY: I got three years' probation just for having different IDs, you know, and it wasn't even like I was really used them for anything totally, you know, too, too illegal either, you know? I mean, it's my business, and if I want to, you know, like, fool guys in the mail and say that I'm somebody else, you know, what's the difference?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COLLINS: Police searched a garbage bin near the crime scene. Some earlier news reports stated a gun was found that may be tied to the murder. Police have neither confirmed nor denied that.

Meanwhile, Blake has told the LAPD he feared someone from his wife's criminal past had been stalking her. But her family's attorney says the person she feared the most was her husband.

CARY GOLDSTEIN, BAKLEY FAMILY ATTORNEY: I know she feared her life. There were times when she was greatly in fear of him. Their -- he -- she was treated, I think, very wrongly by him.

BRAUN: It was not a happy situation, but it seemed to be getting better, and it certainly wouldn't have resulted in Robert Blake killing her.

COLLINS: Blake has now hired a second prominent attorney to help, and his bodyguard has been publicly deflecting the notion he is a murderer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

LARRY KING, HOST: Did you ever give a thought, you know, you know, you know him as well as anyone, that he might have done this? Did you ever think that?

EARLE CALDWELL, BLAKE'S BODYGUARD: Never even crossed my mind. He's -- you know, he's a tough guy and all that, but he was so into making this work that it's just, you know, unbelievable that that would go through his mind, to want to do something like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: The LAPD has been careful to point out that they do not yet have an official suspect. CMDR. GARRETT ZIMMON, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT: There's been much talk about who is or is not a suspect. We have not ruled anyone out as a suspect in this case.

COLLINS: Throughout Robert Blake's long career, the camera has always been his friend. It's when the camera is gone that Blake says life gets tough.

BLAKE: Living is hard. Loving is hard. Trying to smell the flowers is hard. I can't even find the flowers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: For more on Robert Blake, please log on to our Web site, cnn.com/people.

Next week, we take a look at Andre Agassi. Despite a disappointing loss at the German Open, he's a tennis star who ruled the court this past year, and at the ripe old age of 31.

A look at Andre Agassi, a one-time rebel who fought his way through tough times, to now play the best tennis of his life.

That's all for this week. I'm Daryn Kagan. For everyone here at PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, thanks for joining us.

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