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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Profiles of Saddam Hussein, Robert Blake

Aired March 1, 2003 - 11:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, he's the Iraqi dictator at the heart of a continuing conflict with the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK BOWDEN, WRITER, "ATLANTIC MONTHLY'S TALES OF THE TYRANT": He sees himself as this figure whose name will be revered hundreds and hundreds of years from now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: He grew up in the face of poverty and abuse. His rise to political power began at an early age.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CON COUGHLIN, AUTHOR, "SADDAM, KING OF TERROR": He had conducted his first murder when he was 19 years old.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: He's the master of survival, who's ruled by paranoia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMATZIA BARAM, HISTORY DEPARTMENT, UNIVERSITY OF HAIFA: He's very afraid of microbes, bugs. He is hygiene freak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: What makes Saddam Hussein tick?

Then, he was a Little Rascal as a child.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT BLAKE, MURDER SUSPECT/ACTOR: Here's the Rascals when I first started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Later, he played a wisecracking detective who made arrests as TV's "Baretta."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAKE: Yes, this is Baretta.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Now, accused of murdering his wife, he faces the biggest challenge of his life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robert Blake shot Bonny Bakley.

THOMAS MESEREAU, ROBERT BLAKE'S ATTORNEY: When things are over, Mr. Blake is going free because he is no murderer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Robert Blake on trial. Those stories now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAUL ZAHN, HOST: Hi, welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. President Bush has made it clear to Saddam Hussein -- disarm fully and without delay, or be destroyed. Nonetheless, Iraq's long defiant leader was talking tough this week. Among other things, he dismissed any notion of exile and vowed to die before leaving Iraq. And even though it appears that time is running out, Saddam Hussein has faced long odds before and has proven to be unbelievably resilient. Here is Jonathan Mann.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the streets of Baghdad his image is everywhere. Iraqis can't escape the gaze of their president. He's ruled the Iraqi people for decades, an extraordinary feat in a country that has been racked by assassinations and coups.

BARAM: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of survival is no. 1. He would love to eliminate -- to eliminate anybody who endangers him. No. 2; he will reward you if you serve him absolutely loyally.

MANN: He lives an eccentric and paranoid life.

BOWDEN: And his whereabouts are a shell game. And the only people who really know where he is on a given day or at a given moment are the members of his closest, inner circle.

MANN: Throughout his remarkable rise to power, from his childhood as a peasant villager until today, Saddam has had one dream.

BARAM: His dream is to be the leader of the Arab world.

MANN: His very name means "he who confronts" and he has made a career of surviving confrontation.

SADDAM HUSSEIN, IRAQI PRESIDENT (through translator): The path of blood can only lead to more blood.

MANN: He's faced off against U.S. presidents from the first President Bush...

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His ruthless, systemic rape of a peaceful neighbor...

MANN: ... to his son.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction.

MANN: As always, Saddam's regime rejects the charges.

TARIQ AZIZ, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The things that Washington says are all untrue. Iraq doesn't have any weapons of mass destruction.

MANN: The Bush administration is publicly calling for Saddam's removal, labeling him an evil menace. Who is this man in the crosshairs of the United States? What drives the Iraqi leader? And how has he managed to hold on to power?

Saddam Hussein was born on April 28, 1937, in a rural farming village near Tikrit, north of Baghdad.

BARAM: He was born to a very poor family. In fact, one notch -- only one notch above the very bottom of Iraqi social life -- social economic life.

MANN: Saddam's peasant father either died or left the family around the time Saddam was born.

BARAM: Then his mother remarried. He moved with his mother to a new home in a remote village, name of Uja, little mud hut, mud floor, no land of their own and his stepfather didn't like him at all. His stepfather, in fact, abused him in many ways.

COUGHLIN: Because of the polity of his background, Saddam basically had to fight his way through his childhood and I think this had a very big bearing on the character of Saddam, the adult.

MANN: In his book, "Saddam, King of Terror," Con Coughlin describes how Saddam went to live with a rich uncle at the of 10 and later moved with him to Baghdad. When he just was 17, Saddam got involved in politics.

COUGHLIN: His uncle, Khayr Allah, then introduced him to the Ba'ath Party, which is a very small party in Iraq. It had about 500 people and there was a great deal of political attestation in Iraq at the time. And they -- and the Ba'ath Party needed somebody who was street-wise and had a violent disposition. And Saddam was their man.

He had conducted his first murder when he was 19 years old at the behest of his uncle. His uncle, Khayr Allah, fell out with a communist party official and he ordered Saddam to kill him. And Saddam did this very expertly. He waited for him to come home, and he shot him with a single shot to the back of the head. MANN: But in October of 1959, an assassination attempt that failed. Twenty-two-year-old Saddam was wounded as he and nine other Ba'ath Party members tried to gun down then-Iraqi prime minister Abdul Kareem Kassem.

BARAM: They arranged two groups on opposite sides of the road. And when the dictator's Jeep is arriving, they are shooting the dictator's Jeep. That's OK, except they shoot at each other as well because they're on both sides of the road. And Saddam is apparently wounded by one of the bullets shot by one of his friends.

COUGHLIN: Immediately after the assassination attempt, Saddam fell into exile in Cairo with the other surviving assassins where they were looked after by President Nasser, who was then in charge of Egypt and he stayed there for three or four years. He enrolled at the university and tried to take a law degree, never completed it.

ANNOUNCER: The storied city of Baghdad, capital of Iraq, has been the scene once more of bloody revolt.

MANN: In 1963, the Ba'ath Party executed a successful coup and Saddam returned home. But the Ba'ath Party was quickly overthrown, and Saddam was jailed. After two years behind bars, the young rebel escaped to continue his political flaunting.

When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns, the Iraqi strongman's rise to power.

BOWDEN: He essentially betrayed many of those people who had relied on him and in fact, many of them were arrested and executed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANN (voice-over): By late 1960s, Saddam Hussein was back in Iraq from exile and an active member of Iraq's dissident Ba'ath Party. During this time, he married his cousin, Sujida. They later had two sons and three daughters. In 1968, he helped stage a coup against the country's ruling party that installed his mentor, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr as Iraq's leader.

COUGHLIN: The real importance of Saddam's role in that coup was in establishing the security apparatus that would keep the Ba'ath Party in power.

MANN: At second in command, Saddam began amassing his own support.

BOWDEN: A tyrant like Saddam, he doesn't appear out of nowhere. Saddam accumulated power over a period of 10 to 12 years. And I think that, you know, the way that that happened is, you evidence considerable charm, you evidence an ability to get things done and even very idealistic and ambitious people begin to side with you.

MANN: For most of the 1970s, Saddam was the real power behind the throne. He improved the status of women and he modernized hospitals.

BARAM: He improved the infrastructure everywhere -- roads, electricity grids, drinkable water.

MANN: Education became a priority.

BOWDEN: Saddam helped to administer a nationwide literacy program that had really sort of draconian requirements. You were required to learn how to read and if you failed the test, you could be sent to jail for it. It had perhaps, not surprisingly, amazingly good results.

MANN: In 1979, General al-Bakr resigned, citing illness, but there were questions surrounding Saddam's takeover.

BOWDEN: When Saddam seized power for himself, he essentially betrayed many of those people who had relied on him.

MANN: It was a chilling public spectacle. With cameras rolling, he told a roomful of top officials that he discovered a conspiracy to overthrow the government. One man confessed to being part of the plot. After he was removed, Saddam brandishing a cigar, systemically named other alleged conspirators. Sixty-six were taken away, 22 were executed. Like one of his heroes, Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, Saddam began ruling Iraq with an iron fist.

BOWDEN: He has made a study of Stalin. He maintains a veritable, personal library of books about Joseph Stalin and has really kind of modeled his effort to create this dictatorship of his, on, you know, the moves that Stalin made.

MANN: In 1980, a little more than a year into his rein, he launched an invasion of Iran.

BARAM: He went into Iraq, attacked a neighbor three times his size and the war lasted for eight very long years.

MANN: A total of one million men died on both sides before it reached a stalemate. The shaky end was achieved with assistance from the United States.

BOWDEN: The United States provided him with assistance in that war because at the time, there was the hope that Saddam's rule in Iraq was going to become more liberal and more tolerant as time went by.

MANN: But Saddam Hussein's sinister side had shown itself. Some Iranian soldiers were the victims of mustard gas and nerve agents, according to the United Nations. And Saddam's military was not afraid to turn chemical weapons on its own citizens. In 1998, the year the war with Iran ended, thousands of Kurdish refugees were killed by chemical agents in Northern Iraq. In the rest of the country, people were suffering. BARAM: And the economy was in shambles. That was really the end of the charm period and then you started having a lot of suppression and oppression and very weak economic rewards.

MANN: Iraq had financed its war against Iran in part with loans from neighbors, like Kuwait. When Kuwait demanded repayment, Saddam answered with an invasion. Once again, Saddam had attacked a neighboring country, but his occupation of Kuwait would not last long.

GEORGE H. W. BUSH: Today, I am more determined than ever! This aggression will not stand!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can hear the bombs now. They are hitting the center of the city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated. Now, there's a huge fire that we just heard. Whoa! Holy cow!

MANN: It took the United States and coalition forces only six weeks at the beginning of 1991 to drive Saddam's troops from Kuwait. But America and its allies stopped short of removing Saddam Hussein from power. As he had after the Iran/Iraq stalemate, the Iraqi leader claimed victory and celebrated when George Bush lost the 1992 election.

When we return, Saddam's paranoid and eccentric life.

BARAM: He's very afraid of microbes, bugs, anything. He is hygiene freak.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MANN (voice-over): It was early 1991, and coalition forces pounded Iraq in what the United States called Operation Desert Storm. Six weeks later, the war ended, but the country was left with a devastated infrastructure and a leader who had made the world his enemy. The economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations began taking a toll.

BOWDEN: The sanctions, which were designed to force him to disarm, have rendered basically it impossible for that country to progress.

MANN: As Saddam butted heads with U.N. inspectors through the '90s; the people of Iraq paid the price. As he shuttles between his ornate presidential palaces, it seems Saddam has something more important on his mind than his people's suffering.

BARAM: When his survival and when his dream are concerned, he will sacrifice Iraqi people without thinking twice. MANN: Much like in one of his favorite movies, "The Godfather," Saddam has surrounded himself only with those he trusts.

ABBAS AL JANABI, IRAQI DEFECTOR: The bodyguards of Saddam Hussein are his cousins and they came from the same tribe and specifically from the same branch of Saddam's family.

BARAM: They get from him money, land, homes, cars. He even marries them to the right families. They are like his children in a way. They admire him. They obey him and they are very, very scared of him.

MANN: And they should be. In 1995, at the height of U.N. weapons inspections, Saddam's son-in-law and his brother sought asylum in Jordan. Soon after their departure, inspectors discovered boxes and boxes of documents related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in one of their homes.

GEN. HUSSEIN KAMEL HASSAN, SADDAM'S SON-IN-LAW (through translator): We were ordered to hide everything from the beginning. And indeed, a lot of information was hidden and many files were destroyed in nuclear, chemical and biological programs.

MANN: When the controversy quieted six months later, Saddam invited them back to Baghdad with promises of a pardon. They were shot dead three days after their return.

BARAM: He will not hesitate to eliminate anybody who endangers him.

MANN: Loyalty and fear make it very difficult to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

BARAM: I would say that you can assassinate him, but it's very, very difficult.

MANN: Making assassination even more difficult are Saddam's efforts to conceal his whereabouts.

AL JANABI: I know, from, you know, some talks inside this inner circle, that in the time of a crisis he will never sleep more than two or three hours and he never stays in a place more than two or three hours.

BOWDEN: Each of his 20 or more palaces prepares three elaborate meals a day as if Saddam were there and he's moved from place to place sort of like a shell game.

MANN: Saddam is said to be paranoid about his own safety.

BOWDEN: And he has food imported from Europe. The food itself is, of course, carefully tested and radiated to make sure that it doesn't have any poisons or germs.

BARAM: He's very afraid of microbes, bugs, anything. He is hygiene freak. MANN: Close observers say Saddam is also a rather vain man. He reportedly covers the gray it his hair and mustache with black dye.

BOWDEN: When you talk about Saddam's vanity, it's tied in in part with his insecurity, the fact that he is potentially a victim or a target for assassination or coup d'etat. So he has to project an image of power and youth and vitality all the time.

MANN: Projecting a certain image is also vital to preserving Saddam's legacy. Saddam even commissioned the director of three James Bond films, Terrance Jung, to make a movie about the Iraqi ruler's life story. He also wants to be immortalized in bricks and mortar.

BOWDEN: In reconstruction of the palaces, the bricks are stamped with Saddam's name or a symbol for Saddam because he, you know, sees himself as this figure whose name will be revered, you know, hundreds and hundreds of years from now in Arab culture and in Arab history.

MANN: And to become the leader of the Arab world, Saddam has portrayed himself as a devout disciple of Islam. He's even had people trace his ancestry back to the prophet Muhammed.

BARAM: During the last few years, he became a born-again Muslim, so to say, and he's making sure that people will know that he's praying five times a day, and that he is drinking no alcohol. Is it genuine? I don't think so.

BOWDEN: Apparently, Saddam likes to have a drink. He likes to have wine with his meals. He's not a heavy drinker. I was told that one of his favorite brands of wine is Matice, which was kind of a chuckle for, you know, the wine lovers out there because it's not a typically high-end kind of wine. In his prior life, he has got a distinctly more modern sort of secular vent.

MANN: A secular vent that includes taking in popular Hollywood movies.

BOWDEN: Movies like "The Day of The Jackal," "The Conversation," "Enemy of The State," you know, these spy thrillers, where the hero is pitted against the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of an unscrupulous government.

MANN: Now Saddam Hussein finds himself in a real life conflict pitted against the U.S. government that has called for regime change.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are controlled by a murderous tyrant.

MANN: A standoff that puts the defiant dictator at risk of yet another war.

HUSSEIN (through translator): The forces of evil will carry their coffins on their backs to die in disgraceful failure.

MANN: As the conflict comes to a head, Saddam says he'd rather die fighting in Iraq than be driven into exile. BARAM: He is a big-time gambler. He cannot help himself. He's hooked on it and so, he -- and he is a vision. He wants to be the leader of the Arabs and the leader of the Muslims.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: This week may be the turning point for Saddam Hussein. On Friday, the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector will report once again to the Security Council. Shortly after that, the Bush Administration and its coalition of the willing are expected to push for a final vote on Iraq.

ANNOUNCER: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, his star shined early in Hollywood. His whole life was anything but stellar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAKE: This is me and my father. He made me eat off the floor like a dog. He kept me on a leash. He was insane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: A look inside the mind of actor turned murder suspect, Robert Blake. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Actor Robert Blake is telling his side of the story in the murder of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. In a jailhouse interview this week, Blake brought his case for innocence to the people. At the same time, however, prosecutors brought their case against Blake into court. Sharon Collins has more in our look at Robert Blake, his life and his turbulent past from troubled star to accused killer.

SHARON COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's best known as the TV cop from the 70's police drama, "Baretta." But this week, actor Robert Blake was the lead in his own courtroom drama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Robert Blake your true and correct name?

BLAKE: Yes, sir.

COLLINS: In the preliminary hearing, testimony began to help determine whether Blake goes on trial for murder. One key prosecution witness, the actor's longtime private investigator. He said Blake schemed months before his wife was killed.

WILLIAM WELCH, BLAKE'S FORMER PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: He said, we're going to hire a doctor. We're going to abort her, and if that doesn't work, we're going to whack her.

COLLINS: Blake's attorney says prosecutors don't have a case. MESEREAU: We were going to continue to show credibility problems with this case. We're going to continue to show they don't have the evidence to support what they're trying to accomplish.

COLLINS: Since his arrest last April, Blake has maintained his innocence. The 69-year-old has also said he will like to tell his side of the story for the sake of his young daughter, Rosie. In a recent videotape of civil deposition, Blake was adamant about speaking out.

BLAKE: I'm an old man. I'm pushing 70. If I'm going to die in that box, I want it talk before I go.

COLLINS: Blake's urge to talk has cost him. Two of his lawyers resigned last year, claiming TV exposure would compromise Blake's case.

HARLAND BRAUN, BLAKE'S FORMER ATTORNEY: When you're on camera, it's such an immediate and powerful medium, that if you don't argue -- even asked a question, for example, it can make you look bad.

COLLINS: But this week, Blake got his wish. With objections from his latest defense attorney, he spoke out on national TV. In a jailhouse interview with ABC's Barbara Walters, Blake said, he did not think he'd be convicted.

BLAKE: I'm not going to be found guilty. Why? It's real simple. Because God has never ever deserted me. I can't say I haven't deserted him from time to time.

COLLINS: It was the culmination a yearlong investigation, a dramatic arrest, a strained relationship, and one fateful night.

May 4, 2001, paramedics rushed to a gruesome scene. Despite their efforts, they couldn't save 44-year-old Bonny Bakley. She had been shot twice at close range while sitting in her car after having dinner with her husband, 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was frantic. He's in agony. He's screaming, "You got help me, call 911, my wife's been hurt."

COLLINS: But before long, Blake himself was drawing suspicion. 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 or three times a week. He comes with his wife, with other people. He loves -- 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 the Vitello's in search of a gun he thought he had left there.

LT. RON HARTWELL, L.A. POLICE DEPARTMENT: And upon his return to the vehicle, he discovered that his wife was injured, and he had contacting 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: While they had been talking, she had been talking about, well, life is just such headache. I feel I must 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: My 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.

Before last year'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 Vavencio Gubatossi.

BLAKE: I started in New York, in New Jersey, back in 1936 when I was two-and-a half, and I was on the stage with my brother and sister singing and dancing in vaudeville. That's me when I was three years old, called the three little hillbillies.

COLLINS: The Gubatossis 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 when 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 Gubatossis 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 five, 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, unconsciously, I could taste the love and the attention you got when you talked. I didn't know they were acting. I didn't know that there was a difference between being an extra and actor. All I knew is when you talked, they paid attention to you. And someone would come up and touch you physically and give you a little hug and a little makeup, and a little bit of this and a little of that. COLLINS: Mickey Gubatossi 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 got to 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 Gubatossi, and I can say that line, and any other line you got for me to say." So he gave me my shot.

Hi, fellas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, Mickey.

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

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.

BLAKE: He saved me when my people died.

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

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

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)

ZAHN: Robert Blake, ready to make a big career transition coming up, but first an update on someone who knew Blake when everyone still called him Mickey. Here's this week's "Where Are They Now?"

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Butch!

ANNOUNCER: Fans of "The Little Rascals" loved to hate Big Bully Butch. Tommy Bond played Alfalfa's nemesis on the show for four years during the 1930s.

TOMMY BOND, ACTOR: Well, you asked for it.

ANNOUNCER: So where is Tommy Bond now? Bond remained in television after his rascal days as Jimmy Olsen on the "Superman" TV series and as the director of "You Asked for It." He now serves on the board of directors for the National Comedy Hall of Fame in Florida and has written a book entitled

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: PEOPLE IN THE NEWS' look at Robert Blake will continue after this.

(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.

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."

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

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.

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

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

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get out.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my mamma.

BLAKE: I told you to lighten up.

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.

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

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.

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.

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 Story." He portrays a man who murders his wife and children.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Give me those damn pills.

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

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.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BONNY BAKLEY: 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 pleaded guilty to killing his sister's boyfriend in 1991. He served five years in prison for voluntary manslaughter. Bakley became pregnant in the fall of 1999. When her baby daughter was born in June of 2000, she at first thought it was Brando's and wondered what affect 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 2000 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 former 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...

(INTERRUPTED BY CNN COVERAGE OF BREAKING NEWS)

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