On March 16th 2005, a Los Angeles Superior Court acquitted Robert Blake of the murder of his younger wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, after a three month trial. Blake had previously won fame for his performance as a cop in the 70s TV series Baretta, but his performance as a murderer in the real life court room drama will probably be remembered longer.
Blake was born Mickey Gubitosi in 1933 in New Jersey. He made his movie debut at the age of six, in MGM’s 1939 movie Bridal Suite. he then appeared for five years in the “Our Gang” comedy short series for MGM. Blake began his movie career in 1940 with a part in the romantic comedy “I Love You Again” starring Myrna Loy and William Powell. He appeared in more than 70 films during the 40s, including an uncredited role in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” in 1948. Other films he appeared in during the decade include “The Horn Blows at Midnight” and “Humoresque.”
During the 1950s, Blake began moving into adult roles, but most of his parts came in second-rate action movies. His credits during the period include “Apache War Smoke” in 1952, “Screaming Eagles” in 1956, “The Tijuana Story” in 1957, and “Battle Flame” in 1959. In the 1960s Blake had parts in some first-run movies including “PT-109” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” But the role for which he will probably be most remembered was that of Perry King in the multi-Oscar winning 1967 film “In Cold Blood,” based on the book by Truman Capote.
In the 1970s, Blake had his best known role in the television cop series “Baretta,” which ran three years from 1975 until 1978. He won an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama series for the role. After the series was cancelled, Blake appeared in a series of made-for-television movies.
Blake continued to appear in television movies, such as “Of Mice and Men” in 1981 and “Blood Feud” in 1983, but then he dropped out of the spotlight for most of the 1980s. In 1993, Robert Blake made a comeback with his Emmy-award-winning performance in the television movie “Judgement Day: The John List Story.” He also appeared in “Money Train” in 1995 and “Lost Highway” in 1997.
During his criminal trial, Blake’s defence team portrayed the aging actor as a rather pathetic figure and argued that Bakley had a pattern of sending letters and nude photos of herself to famous men and had trapped Blake into marrying her by becoming pregnant. The couple’s daughter, Rose, was born in June 2000, and though Bakley initially claimed that the child was fathered by Christian Brando, son of the celebrated actor Marlon Brando, a paternity test proved the baby was Blake’s. Blake and Bakley married that November. Their brief, unhappy union lasted until May 4, 2001, when Bakley was shot to death as she sat in a car outside a Los Angeles restaurant.
Blake was arrested for the murder, and the prosecution produced two former stunt doubles who claimed the actor had recruited them to kill his wife. During cross-examination, the stuntmen were revealed to be cocaine and methamphetamine users. In their acquittal of Blake, the jury made it clear they didn’t believe the stuntmen’s statements, and also concluded that the prosecution had failed to place the murder weapon in Blake’s hands.
In November 2005, eight months after the criminal trial ended, Robert Blake was found guilty in a civil trial of “intentionally” causing Bonny Lee Bakley’s death; he was ordered to pay $30 million to Bakley’s children. Rose remained in the care of Blake’s eldest daughter, Delinah. Though he did not testify in the criminal trial, Blake did take the stand during his civil trial to deny the accusations.