Before starring in TV and movies as a youngster and adult, Robert Blake appeared as Mickey in the Our Gang series of shorts. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, he appeared in over 70 films, garnering critical praise for his performance in 1967’s In Cold Blood. Blake later earned an Emmy for his performance in the 1970s gritty cop thriller Baretta.
Blake’s media profile dwindled until 2002, when he was charged with the murder of his second wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. He was later acquitted, but in a civil proceeding, he was convicted accountable for her death. He died on March 9, 2023, at the age of 89.
According to some versions, Blake was born Michael James Gubitosi on September 18, 1933, in Nutley, New Jersey (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 artists, and he spent his infancy performing in their act. Blake spent his childhood in Hollywood, California, where he worked as an extra for the MGM studios.
He had a leading role in the Our Gang series of cartoons (also known as The Little Rascals) by the age of six, including Dad for a Day (1939) and Alfalfa’s Double (1940). (1940). He played Mickey in the series before changing his stage name to Bobby Blake. Blake also appeared in the 1940 romantic comedy I Love You Again, starring Myrna Loy and William Powell.
Blake had a difficult childhood, reportedly suffering physical violence from his father and being exposed to whiskey and cigarettes at a young age.
Movies and Television
Blake won a main role in the drama Mokey (1942), parts in the comedy-fantasy films The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945) and Humoresque (1946), an uncredited but essential position in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and a starring role in the Red Ryder Western series throughout his adolescence.
By the mid-1950s, he had shifted to dramatic roles, appearing in films such as Apache War Smoke (1952), Screaming Eagles (1956), The Rack (1956), The Tijuana Story (1957), Three Dangerous Persons (1957), Battle Flame (1959), and The Purple Gang (1960).
Blake rose to prominence in the 1960s, appearing in films such as the World War II adventure PT 109 (1963), the massive religious epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and the love drama This Property Is Condemned (1966). He also worked on the TV anthology The Richard Boone Show about this time. Blake appeared in the popular murder thriller In Cold Blood, based on Truman Capote’s book of the same name, in 1967.
In the film, Blake won tremendous acclaim for his depiction as homicidal vagrant Perry Smith. Other notable appearances followed in films such as Inform Them Willlie Boy Is Here (1969) and Electra Glide in Blue (1973), before Blake returned to television.
Blake was cast in the part for which he is most remembered in 1975: the titular character on the three-year-running TV police drama Baretta. Blake was a regular on the show from 1975 to 1978, and he won an Emmy for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1975. Blake had also become notorious for his turbulent nature by this point.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Blake participated in a plethora of TV miniseries and special film projects, including Of Mice and Men (1981), based on John Steinbeck’s novel. He received another Emmy nomination for his performance as Jimmy Hoffa in 1983’s Blood Feud, a dramatized portrayal of Robert F. Kennedy’s pursuit of corrupt labor organizer Jimmy Hoffa. Blake largely disappeared from the public eye for the following ten years.
He made an unusual comeback in 1993, garnering an Emmy nomination for his role as a New Jersey accountant-turned-mass murderer in the TV drama Judgement Day: The John List Story. Blake returned to film after that, starring in Money Train (1995) alongside Jennifer Lopez and Wesley Snipes, and Lost Highway (1997) alongside Patricia Arquette and Bill Pullman, among other roles.
Blake married actress Sondra Kerry in 1964, and the couple had two children, Noah and Delinah, before divorcing in 1983. He married Bonny Lee Bakley in 2000, and they had a daughter named Rose.
Bakley Murder and Trial
Blake made news in May 2001 when his second wife, Bakley, was killed while waiting in a car outside a restaurant where the couple had just dined. Throughout the inquiry, Blake maintained his innocence, but after nearly a year, the police arrested him and his bodyguard in connection with the murder.
A closely watched trial ensued, with charges that Bakley had a history of deception and that Blake had hired stuntmen to stage the murder. Blake was also interviewed by Barbara Walters, who declared his innocence in a clip played during the trial.
Blake was cleared of the murder charge as well as one count of soliciting murder in March 2005. The jury was deadlocked on a second murder solicitation allegation, but the case was dismissed by the judge. Blake sobbed into his lawyer’s shoulder after hearing the verdict, according to The New York Times.
A jury in a civil suit held the actor guilty for the murder and sentenced him to pay $30 million in damages to Bakley’s children eight months later. After Blake filed an appeal, the damages granted were lowered in half. During this period, the actor also declared bankruptcy.
In 2012, Blake drew a flood of new attention to Bakley’s murder. He went on Piers Morgan Tonight to promote his self-published memoir, Tales of a Rascal (2011). Morgan pressed the actor on Bakley, and he became defensive. Blake described herself as a “con artist” who “burned people.” During the broadcast conversation, the actor became enraged and at times incoherent, calling Morgan a “fraud” and raging against the cops who “pulled my intestines out and left me beside the road to die.”
Blake died in his Los Angeles home on March 9, 2023, surrounded by family. He was 89. According to his niece, he died as a result of heart illness.