Scott's World -- UPI Arts & Entertainment

By VERNON SCOTT, United Press International  |  April 26, 2002 at 1:17 AM
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HOLLYWOOD, April 26 (UPI) -- The nation's media have become a lynch mob for Robert Blake, accused of killing his wife Bonny Lee Bakley last May 4.

Since his arrest and brief appearance in court, actor Blake, 68, has been found guilty by press and TV acting as judge and jury.

The media emphasizes its race to convict by using the most unflattering video tape clips and still photographs in their morgue files.

The Los Angeles Times referred to him this week as a "has been," a term it rarely uses for other performers past their prime.

Unfailingly, the photographs make suspect Blake -- and he is only a suspect at this juncture -- look sinister, a thug. Or they use mug shots of Blake from his starring role in his biggest movie hit, "In Cold Blood" (1967).

Blake may have been too believable an actor in this role, playing Perry Smith, a frightening psychotic killer, and in many roles thereafter.

Off-screen Blake was no more Perry Smith than John Wayne was Rooster Cogburn, Clark Gable was Rhett Butler or Raymond Burr was Perry Mason.

Worse, comparisons are being made between O.J. Simpson and Blake, who have only two things in common: both are actors, both have been accused of murder. Any similarities end there.

Simpson was a highly publicized strong University of Southern California and Buffalo Bills all-everything half-back, literally tall, dark and handsome.

Robert Blake is only dark. He is a small man physically, a mere 5-foot-4. He has never been a real-life hero nor the idol of millions.

Until the slaying of his wife a year ago, Blake was not a major figure in Hollywood -- or the rest of the country, for that matter.

Those who have known the actor over many years would say he is an introvert of astonishing dimensions. He has always disliked crowds, social circles and glitz.

Blake was often morose and self-abnegating, a loner who avoided the spotlight and shunned personal publicity.

He was and remains tormented by his background as a poor Brooklyn kid named Michael James Vijencio Gubitosi, of Italian heritage. His nickname was Mickey.

His father was a Depression era Works Progress Administration blacksmith; his mother, Elizabeth, a wannabe actress. Husband and wife formed a family act with their three children billed as "The Three Little Hillbillies."

They bombed, introducing Mickey to failure early.

The family moved to L.A., where James became a gardener. Elizabeth found work as a maid. Both were drinkers, and papa Gubitosi was not averse to using his fists when angry, which was often.

A reluctant Mickey became prominent in the old MGM "Our Gang" movies, a job he hated, Blake would recall in later years.

But he was the family's principal source of income at age 5 and was reminded under no uncertain terms to bring home the bacon, or else!

The shy, introverted little boy was forced to work in the series, which led to roles of all kinds, including the part of Little Beaver in the old "Red Ryder" horse opera series.

Although diminutive, Mickey changed his name to Bobby Blake, his parents never let him forget he was really a nobody, a scruffy kid who got lucky.

As his reputation grew in film and TV circles, Bobby's ego continued to shrink. He was always the cute little guy who wanted to be the big, strong leading man.

He worked out religiously for many years at Frankie Van's famed gym, where he lifted weights, punched the speed bag, boxed with friends and built up his muscles.

e starred in several films, playing an Indian renegade in "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here" (1969) with Robert Redford and Katharine Ross.

He played a motorcycle cop in "Electra Glide In Blue" (1973), in which one of his lines summed up his inferiority complex. His character says: "I'm only one-eighth of an inch shorter than James Dean."

Perhaps to overcome his lack of height, Blake liked to be thought of as a tough guy, another character trait that does not stand him in good stead today.

Actually, he emotionally was as soft as a marshmallow and as sweet-natured a man as you might care to know. He always had dogs to whom he was emotionally attached. He tended the garden at his Studio City home and kept rabbits as pets.

A gentle, soft-spoken man, he is tortured by his past, which included bouts of drinking and drugs. He walked the dry, concrete bed of the Los Angeles river, which ran near his house, for hours late at night.

He never fully recovered from his divorce from his first wife, Sondra (1964-83), and loves their son Noah and daughter Delinah. He adores Rose, his year-and-a-half-old daughter with Bakley.

Is Blake guilty?

Whatever; he deserves his day in court.

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