HOLLYWOOD, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- It's difficult to believe a jailed star should suddenly find episodes of his TV series being sold on the eve of his trial for murdering his wife.
The actor is Robert Blake, 69, charged with shooting Bonnie Lee Bakley, 44, to death in the family car in May 2001.
Episodes of Blake's show, "Baretta" -- in which he played a street-smart cop (1975-1978) -- can now be purchased in stores.
Baretta was a caricature of the actor, a sloppily dressed undercover tough guy specializing in disguises, living in a rundown hotel with a pet cockatoo. His wardrobe: grungy T-shirt and denims.
Is it coincidence that Universal Studios chose to include "Baretta" in its DVD releases of the studio's most popular TV programs?
Other shows in the series include "Battlestar Galactica," "Quantum Leap," "Dragnet," "Magnum P.I." and "The Rockford Files." None of the stars involved is likely to be as interesting as Blake, who has been behind bars since last March awaiting trial.
He has already pleaded innocent, but Los Angeles Police Department media releases read as if he already was condemned by a judge and jury -- which is not the case.
"Baretta" is prominent in Universal's press releases with two DVD's: "Baretta Season One" (the first 13 shows) and "The Best of Baretta."
Was Blake's name in headlines a factor at this time? Odds are good "Baretta" will top the list in sales, even with a price of $39.98.
Blake increasingly becomes hot copy as his trial approaches. Try to imagine the outcry and indignation had some studio released the movies or TV appearances of O.J. Simpson on the eve of his trial for the murder of his former wife, Nicole.
Universal Home Studio Video might not have considered the possibility of exploiting Blake in his private nightmare, but if it is coincidence, the release date this week appears to be propitious.
In its press release, Universal lauds Blake's show:
"Robert Blake found his true TV persona, a rough-and-tumble, unconventional cop, often at odds with the police brass.
"Featuring hip soundtrack and music from Sammy Davis, Jr., and Simon & Garfunkle and ... guest stars Gary Busey, M. Emmett Walsh, Scott Glenn, Tommy Lee Jones, Wings Hauser, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Dennis Quaid ... Baretta stands today as a program against which all other cool cops shows must be measured."
High praise indeed considering the studio's relations with Blake from beginning to end were contentious; Blake bitterly protested the real or imagined poor treatment his show received from studio brass.
The studio suffered many truculent Blake broadsides as the show became increasingly popular; the higher the ratings the more difficult and demanding Blake became.
Finally the show was canceled after many an acrimonious allegation and counter-charge.
It was David vs. Goliath, and this time little David took a heavy loss. Blake was fired by the powerful MCA conglomerate.
Without question, "Baretta" was the high-water mark of Blake's career, although he has appeared in 131 movies and television shows, going back to his days as an appealing little waif in the "Our Gang" films.
His biggest movie hits were "In Cold Blood," "Electra Glide in Blue" and "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here."
Always a moody loner with a chip on his shoulder, Blake was a perpetual outsider in Hollywood, shunning glitzy parties and pompous industry events. He carried his impoverished childhood around heavily on his muscular shoulders, taking frequent forlorn midnight walks alone in the dry Los Angeles River bed near his Studio City home.
Blake, as he survives the long hours of solitude in his barred Los Angeles jail cell, must reflect with misgivings the irony of Baretta's maxim, "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."
It was one many adages Blake contributed to scripts during the "Baretta" series, one he often repeated in conversations about crime. Now Blake finds himself doing time in the clink since last April, awaiting his trial for murder. Currently he is scheduled for a bail hearing Nov. 13.
His attorneys have produced evidence that Blake's wife, Bakley, corresponded with more than 140 prison inmates, including serial child molesters and murderers nationwide, in which she used some 130 aliases. The implication: any one of the criminals might have a motive for killing her.
Among Bakley's correspondents was Christian Brando, son of actor Marlon Brando, who dated Bakley while she was Blake's companion.
Brando once told Bakley he had impregnated her, but DNA tests proved Blake was the father of little Rose, now 2, who lives with Blake's grown daughter in a secluded L.A. suburb.
The new DVD's should sell briskly.