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Robert Blake
Photo: Lee Celano/WireImage

Robert Blake

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Robert Blake is an Emmy-winning actor known for his film roles and as the star of the '70s cop drama 'Baretta.' He's also known for the murder trial of his second wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley.

Who Is Robert Blake?

Robert Blake starred as Mickey in the Our Gang series of shorts before working in TV and film as a teen and adult. He starred in more than 70 films throughout the 1940s and '50s, earning critical acclaim for his starring role in 1967's In Cold Blood, and later garnered an Emmy for his role in the '70s gritty cop drama Baretta. Blake's media exposure waned until 2002 when he was accused of murdering his second wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley. He was later acquitted, though he was found liable for her death in a civil trial. 

Early Life

Blake was born Michael Gubitosi on September 18, 1933, in Nutley, New Jersey according to some accounts (in a 2011 interview, he stated that he is unsure of his exact date of birth, believing it fell sometime in September or October.)

Blake's parents were vaudeville performers, and he spent his childhood performing with his family's vaudeville act. During his childhood, Blake moved with his family to Hollywood, California, where he worked as an extra for the MGM studios. By the age of six, he had a starring role in the Our Gang series of shorts (also known as The Little Rascals), including Dad for a Day, released in 1939, and Alfalfa’s Double, released in 1940. He starred as Mickey in the series, eventually having his acting name changed to Bobby Blake. Also in 1940, Blake had a bit part in the romantic comedy I Love You Again, starring Myrna Loy and William Powell.

Blake experienced a painful time growing up, reportedly suffering physical abuse from his father, and being introduced to liquor and cigarettes at a very young age.

Movies and Television

During his teen years, Blake landed a lead part in the drama Mokey (1942), parts in the comedy-fantasy film The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945) and Humoresque (1946), an uncredited but pivotal role in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and a starring role in the Red Ryder Western series. By the mid-1950s, he had turned to dramatic fare, with TV work and small parts in films like Apache War Smoke (1952), Screaming Eagles (1956), The Rack (1956), The Tijuana Story (1957), Three Violent People (1957), Battle Flame (1959) and The Purple Gang (1960).

During the 1960s, Blake landed more noticeable roles, including those in the World War II adventure PT 109 (1963), the mammoth religious epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and the romantic drama This Property Is Condemned (1966). Also around this time, he worked on the TV anthology The Richard Boone Show. In 1967, Blake starred in the popular murder drama In Cold Blood, a film based on the Truman Capote book of the same name. Blake received critical acclaim for his portrayal of homicidal drifter Perry Smith in the film. More prominent roles followed in several films, including Tell Them Willlie Boy Is Here (1969) and Electra Glide in Blue (1973) before Blake turned once again to TV. 

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In 1975, Blake was cast in the role for which he is best remembered: that of the title character on the TV police drama Baretta, which enjoyed three years on the air. Blake starred on the series from 1975 to '78, winning an Emmy Award (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series) for his performance during his inaugural year. By this time, Blake had also become known for his often volatile behavior. Blake subsequently appeared in a slew of TV miniseries and special movie projects during the 1980s and '90s, including Of Mice and Men (1981); Blood Feud (1983); Hoffa (1983), in which he played the lead role. For the next 10 years, Blake virtually withdrew from the spotlight.

In 1993, he staged an unlikely comeback, receiving an Emmy nomination for his performance as a New Jersey accountant-turned-mass murderer in the TV drama Judgement Day: The John List Story, for which he received another Emmy nomination. Blake went back to film thereafter, landing supporting roles in Money Train (1995) with Jennifer Lopez and Wesley Snipes, and Lost Highway (1997) with Patricia Arquette and Bill Pullman, among other parts.

Marriages and Children

In 1964, Blake married actress Sondra Kerry; they had two children before divorcing in 1983. In 2000, he wed Bonnie Lee Bakley, with whom he had a daughter.

Bakley Murder and Trial

In May 2001, Blake made headlines when his second wife, Bakley, was shot to death while waiting in a car outside a restaurant where the couple had just dined. Blake maintained his innocence throughout the ensuing investigation, but after almost a year, the police arrested him and his bodyguard in connection with the murder. A highly scrutinized trial followed with allegations that Bakley had a history of fraud and that Blake had hired stuntmen to orchestrate the killing. Blake was also interviewed by Barbara Walters and proclaimed his innocence, the clip of which was shown during the trial.

In March 2005, Blake was acquitted of the murder charge, as well as one count of soliciting murder, but eight months later, a jury in a civil suit found the actor liable for the murder and ordered him to pay $30 million in damages to Bakley's children. After Blake later appealed the case, the damages awarded were cut in half. The actor also filed for bankruptcy around this time.

Blake generated a wave of new publicity about Bakley's murder in 2012. To promote his self-published memoir, Tales of a Rascal (2011), he appeared on Piers Morgan Tonight. Morgan questioned the actor about Bakley, and a defensive Blake said that she was a "con artist" and "had people that she burned." The actor became irate and was sometimes incoherent during this televised encounter, calling Morgan "a liar" and railing against the police who "ripped my guts out and left me beside the road to die."

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