Murder Most Hollywood ; for 20 Years, the Acting Career of Robert Blake Has Been in the Doldrums. Now He's Back in the Headlines, for the Worst Possible Reason - His Wife Has Been Murdered. It's Been Dubbed `OJ - the Sequel'. but, Argues, Ryan Gilbey, Could It Just Be a Case of America Losing Sight of the Distinction between Fact and Fiction?
Gilbey, Ryan, The Independent (London, England)
Everyone in Hollywood wants to be famous for something. But the one tag that no one's competing for is "the new OJ". The story of how a faded, 67-year-old actor found himself being put forward for this entirely undesirable role in the wake of his wife's murder has most, but not all, of the elements that make a great, grim Hollywood scandal. It includes: sex, scams, celebrity, paternity disputes, parole violations, burnt-out careers and, horribly, the death of a woman who, whatever else is being said about her, was clearly not brimming over with joie de vivre.
For a long time it seemed that the celebrity ledger had finalised its entry for the actor Robert Blake. He would be known forever as the child star of the Our Gang movies from the 1930s and 1940s, who later turned in a chilling performance as one of the killers in the film of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (1967). After cult success as the idealistic cop in Electra Glide in Blue (1973), Blake's career settled into the kind of somnambulant daze that can only come with landing the plum part in your own TV detective series. Just look at Angela Lansbury in Murder, She Wrote. For Blake, it was the mid- Seventies show Baretta, gritty for its time but as sure a sign that middle age had arrived as a paunch or a liking for garden centres. The eventual cancellation of the series, and his reliance on drink, drugs and parts in bad TV movies, still didn't jeopardise the American public's fondness for Robert Blake. The ink had already dried. The book was closed.
Until last month, that is. On 4 May, Blake and his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, dined out at Vitello's, in a run-down corner of Studio City, Los Angeles. Blake had with him a gun, apparently at the insistence of Bakley, who had told him that she was in danger. After the meal, they walked the block to their car, where Blake realised that he had forgotten the weapon. In the time it took him to retrieve the gun from the restaurant and return to the car, Bakley had been shot in the head. She was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital.
For some weeks, detectives maintained that Blake was only a witness to the crime, but a LAPD spokesperson confirmed recently that the actor is now a suspect. Countless questions have surfaced about his behaviour on the night of 4 May. Why did he make a reservation at Vitello's when it was his regular haunt, and an establishment always happy to accommodate him? Why did he park in a secluded area a block away, instead of in Vitello's own well-lit car park? Particular incredulity has been reserved for the fact that Blake stopped for a glass of water between raising the alarm and checking on his wife's condition. The theory that he may have murdered Bakley at another location before moving the body has also been aired.
Then the digging started. Not her burial plot - that would be stalled for three weeks by the presence of camera crews, reporters and helicopters, whose mass stake-out at the funeral home ensured that Bakley's body could not be delivered. (She would eventually be interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, the celebrity cemetery that inspired Evelyn Waugh's satire of Californian madness, The Loved One.) No, the man doing the spadework was Blake's lawyer, Harland Braun, who scarcely waited for Bakley's heart to stop beating before beginning the process of contesting that she ever had a heart in the first place.
Braun had plenty of raw material to work with, and he has passed it around the US media so liberally that the border control between rumour and reality has been relaxed. Among the dirt being slung at Bakley's casket is the allegation that she sold nude pictures of herself by mail in exchange for gifts, plane tickets and cash, and that the scheme warped into a scam when Bakley went into the wedding business in a big way, duping 100 men into marriage. Braun claims that …
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Publication information: Article title: Murder Most Hollywood ; for 20 Years, the Acting Career of Robert Blake Has Been in the Doldrums. Now He's Back in the Headlines, for the Worst Possible Reason - His Wife Has Been Murdered. It's Been Dubbed `OJ - the Sequel'. but, Argues, Ryan Gilbey, Could It Just Be a Case of America Losing Sight of the Distinction between Fact and Fiction?. Contributors: Gilbey, Ryan - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 15, 2001. Page number: 1,7. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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