Robert Blake (born 18 September 1933), is an American actor most known for starring in the film In Cold Blood, the U.S. television series Baretta, and more recently for the 2005 trial in which he was tried and acquitted of the 2001 murder of his wife.
Blake was born Michael James Vincenzo Gubitosi in Nutley, New Jersey. His mother, Elizabeth Cafone (b. 1910), was married to Giacomo (James) Gubitosi (1906–1956), however according to Blake in an interview with Piers Morgan, his biological father was actually Giacomo’s brother. As a result of this, he said his parents were cold and distant towards him. He had two elder siblings, brother James Gubitosi (1930–1995) and sister Giovanna Gubitosi (1932–1985).
James and Elizabeth began a song-and-dance act, in 1936, the three children began performing, billed as “The Three Little Hillbillies.” They moved to Los Angeles, in 1938, where the children began working as movie extras.
Then known as Mickey Gubitosi, Blake began his acting cat career in the MGM movie Bridal Suite (1939), before appearing in MGM’s Our Gang shorts (aka The Little Rascals) under his real name. He appeared in 40 of the shorts between 1939 and 1944, eventually becoming the series’ final lead character. James and Giovanna Gubitosi also made appearances in the series as extras.
Blake also had roles in one of Laurel and Hardy’s films The Big Noise (1944), the movies Humoresque (1946), and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). In 1950, Blake joined the Army.
He turned down the role of Little Joe in Bonanza, before appearing in the syndicated western series 26 Men, The Cisco Kid, Have Gun Will Travel and The Restless Gun. Blake performed in numerous motion pictures as an adult, including the starring role in The Purple Gang (1960), and featured roles in Pork Chop Hill (1959), Town Without Pity (1961), Ensign Pulver (1964) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). In 1967, he played real-life murderer Perry Smith in In Cold Blood; Richard Brooks directed, adapting Truman Capote’s non-fiction book for the film.
Blake featured in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), and Electra Glide in Blue (1973). Blake may be best known for his Emmy Award-winning role of Tony Baretta in the popular television series Baretta (1975 to 1978), playing an undercover police detective who specialized in disguises.
He continued to act through the 1980s and 1990s, mostly in television, in the miniseries Blood Feud (1983) and Judgment Day: The John List Story (1993), which earned him a third Emmy nomination. He also had character parts in the theatrical movies Money Train (1995) and more memorably in the warped David Lynch film Lost Highway (1997). In addition, Blake starred in the television series Hell Town, playing a priest working in a tough neighborhood.
Almost one year later, on April 18, 2002, Blake was arrested and charged in connection with the murder of his wife. His longtime bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, was also arrested and charged with conspiracy in connection with murder. A key event that gave the LAPD the confidence to arrest Blake came when a retired stuntman, Ronald “Duffy” Hambleton, agreed to testify against him. Hambleton alleged that Blake tried to hire him to kill Bonnie Lee Bakley. Another retired stuntman and an associate of Hambleton’s, Gary McLarty, came forward with a similar story.
On March 16, 2005, Blake was found not guilty of the murder of Bonnie Lee Bakley and of one of the two counts of solicitation of murder. The other count, the solicitation of Gary McLarty, was dropped after it was revealed that the jury was deadlocked 11-1 in favour of an acquittal. Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, commenting on this ruling, called Blake a “miserable human being” and the jurors “incredibly stupid.” Blake’s defense team, led by attorney M. Gerald Schwartzbach, and members of the jury responded that the prosecution had failed to prove its case. Trial analysts also agreed with the jury’s verdict. On the night of his acquittal several fans celebrated at Blake’s favorite haunt, Vitello’s.