Robert Blake’s Hot Again, But Fate Is Fickle

Mar 28, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Movie and television offers are pouring in for Robert Blake, especially for him to star in a reality series. But he is biding his time after a four-year nightmare ended March 16 with his acquittal in the shooting death of his wife. Now at age 72, some six decades after entering show business in the “Our Gang” comedies, Mr. Blake is a hot commodity once again.

It would appear to be in the nick of time. After Mr. Blake was found not guilty of murdering his wife, he held an emotional press conference in Van Nuys, Calif. He revealed that he had once been wealthy, to the tune of a $10 million net worth, but he was no longer, due to the extraordinary cost of defending himself against a murder charge since 2001. “Right now I couldn’t buy spats for a hummingbird,” Mr. Blake said. “I need a job.”

For now, there is no shortage of producers, promoters and others offering Mr. Blake opportunities, said veteran publicist Dale Olson, who as of last week is the only person authorized to speak on the actor’s behalf.

“I’ve gotten calls for documentaries, for television series, for several reality shows and movie parts,” Mr. Olson said. “He has made no decision what he wants to do, if anything.”

He may need work, but since his press conference Mr. Blake has limited his public appearances. His single network television interview was last week on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where he answered questions from Barbara Walters.

Otherwise, he is resting. “He’s not ready to look at a screenplay yet,” Mr. Olson said. “He wants to get his head in shape.”

At present Mr. Blake has no manager or talent agent. If he does intend to make money in the acting trade again, Mr. Blake should choose his representation and his first project very carefully because it will generate tremendous publicity, said veteran publicist Lee Solters.

Finding a hit may be difficult, but Mr. Blake has other options. “Can he write a book?” publicist Michael Levine asked rhetorically. “Of course. Huge book. Huge. Is there anyone in America who won’t watch him on a television show or pay to see him in a movie? Answer: yes. It would guarantee a radical amount of publicity, which would be great marketing.”

“He’s somebody who now, for all the wrong reasons, cuts through the clutter,” said a top-level studio executive. “People are interested in him. People will watch it just like they watch a train wreck.”

Seize the moment, suggested Steven Jaffe, a crisis management consultant and a veteran publicist. “Take advantage of the moment and work as much as you can,” he advises. “Hire people to help you exploit yourself, and avoid reality shows.”

A nonfiction show centered on Mr. Blake seems to be a popular idea, but Mr. Olson said Mr. Blake will not do that. He wants to work with the right people once he is ready.

One source said a major cable network has been pitched by several producers with ideas for a reality show starring Mr. Blake, claiming they had the right to represent him. That is not the case, Mr. Olson warned in no uncertain terms: “There are no authorized representatives who can act for Robert Blake, and he’s not interested in a reality show,” Mr. Olson said. “He has not talked to a soul about anything.”

A survey by TelevisionWeek of broadcast and cable outlets found no evidence of other Blake projects being circulated.

Ironically, noted a prominent personal manager, before the murder charge, Mr. Blake was virtually unemployable-and almost uninsurable-in Hollywood after a long and varied career. “Should he be on TV? Not really,” said the manager. “But people are also eating bugs like sausages on TV now. I mean, it is crazy. The whole world is turned upside down.”

When he began his career at age 6 in 1939, Mr. Blake was still known as Mickey Gubitosi, which was close to his birth name of Michael Gubitosi. He was also famous as the Indian boy Little Beaver in the “Red Ryder” movie series. Throughout his youth he made one movie after another, but had an unhappy home life with an abusive stepfather.

When he was in his late teens the roles grew fewer. He found work in television, first as a supporting player and then, after a battle with heroin addiction, as a star on series television. Beginning in 1974 he started shooting “Baretta,” a TV series about a quirky private eye with a pet cockatoo. It had a mid-season debut on ABC in January 1975 and was an immediate hit, winning Mr. Blake his first and only Emmy award.

But Mr. Blake battled for creative rights on the show and over salary. Despite the initial high ratings, the show was canceled in 1978 after fewer than four seasons.

Mr. Blake experienced long periods of being out of the public eye, returning occasionally in the 1980s to do a guest role or a TV movie. He tried another series in 1985, playing Baretta as a priest, but it didn’t click. His career was effectively over after 1986.

Producer Peter Guber said most top producers will continue to avoid him, even if he does offer a temporary marketing hook. “His star is not rising,” Mr. Guber said. “If Hitler were around, there would be offers for him too. That doesn’t make it wise and creative filmmaking.”

Mr. Guber, who hosts “Sunday Morning Shootout” on AMC, doubts Mr. Blake will be able to sustain a career. “He’s got really serious problems,” Mr. Guber said. “Anybody who thinks they are going to navigate around those problems.” with a career choice is pretty dumb.”