An Act 2 for Robert Blake?

Times Staff Writer

For HIRE: diminutive, silver-haired, 71-year-old television and movie actor. Known as a perfectionist and loner. Skilled at playing tough guys. Cops his specialty. Please, no villain roles at this time.

After six decades as a Hollywood actor, Robert Blake, best known as the Emmy-winning 1970s television detective Baretta, would like to get back to work.

"I'm broke," he told a news conference last week shortly after a jury acquitted him of killing his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. "I need a job."

The question is, does Hollywood have a job for a man who, some believe, got away with murder?

His friend of 30 years, publicist Dale Olson, says that since the acquittal, Blake has received more than a dozen job offers, although he declines to discuss specific producers or projects.

"I'm talking about independent movies, I'm talking about reality shows, I'm talking about people who want to develop TV projects for him," Olson said, adding with a laugh: "Now, I haven't gotten a call from Steven Spielberg, but I would not be surprised if it comes in.

"Some of them, I would advise him not to do," Olson continued. "Some of them, we'll discuss.... In the final analysis, if you look at Robert Blake's body of work, he's a superb actor."

Industry insiders say it won't be easy -- in part simply because Blake is at an age when acting jobs are scarce anyway. In fact, his last role was in the 1997 David Lynch film "Lost Highway," and he wasn't the star.

"I think it was hard for him to work even before this trial," said producer Tom Pollock, the former Universal Pictures studio chief. "However difficult it was for him then, it will still be as difficult now."

Jay Bernstein, Blake's onetime manager, noted that in Hollywood anything can happen and often does. "True to form in Hollywood, they'll never work with you again -- until they need you." But he added: "I think he has a shot to get back in the business, but for any of us who are anywhere near his age it's hard to do."

Allan Mayer, who works for Sitrick and Co., the crisis communications firm that specializes in buffing the public image of stars who are embroiled in scandal, said, "When you are accused of a crime, it's not enough to be innocent, you have to act in a way that the public expects an innocent person would act."

Over the years, bigger stars who were accused of committing lesser crimes have managed to dig themselves out of legal scrapes and revive their careers. Rocker Tommy Lee and actress Halle Berry were both able to overcome their arrests -- Lee for domestic abuse, Berry for felony hit-and-run -- by going public and admitting their mistakes.

"Halle went on 'Primetime Thursday' with Diane Sawyer and answered all questions about what had happened," Mayer recalled. "She didn't try to avoid or mislead anybody. She faced up to it squarely."

Lee, he said, appeared on "Fox Files" with Catherine Crier, a "60 Minutes"-style show that then aired on the Fox network. "As a result, Tommy is now regarded as sort of a sexy, lovable clown -- not as the evil guy he was portrayed as five years ago," Mayer said. "In both cases, what they did enabled them to pass by all problems they had."

Actor Robert Downey Jr. never denied that he had a drug problem and the entertainment industry forgave him, but O.J. Simpson, acquitted of two sensational murders, is perceived by many to be guilty and may never win Hollywood's forgiveness.

Working against Blake is the fact that his career was pretty much over before the murder charge, and an entire new generation in Hollywood doesn't remember "Baretta."

But notoriety has its own appeal.

Stephen J. Cannell, who created "Baretta," said there is enough "reasonable doubt" in the Blake case that the public and Hollywood might cut him some slack.

"He's definitely attained some degree of celebrity and the question really comes down to how much infamy is attached to this celebrity," Cannell said. "The guy I know is too smart to commit this murder.... He's definitely in the public eye."

On "Good Morning, America" this week, Blake told Barbara Walters that: "People right now either love me or hate me. The other day, I went to the Farmers Market [in L.A.] and everybody was hugging me and stuff, but there were people on the outside saying, 'Murderer, murderer.' But it's hard to go from being Saddam Hussein to Seabiscuit and try to catch up with it."

He also said that his bank account has dwindled to $1 million -- and he owes Uncle Sam $1.5 million in taxes. "And I made a deal with him," Blake said. "I said, 'Uncle Sam, I'm going to pay you $25,000 a month. If I walk out of the courthouse, you trust me, I'll go out and earn a living and I'll square it with you. If I don't, if I go to Folsom, you take whatever's left and happy days.' "

A Hollywood entertainment attorney who asked not to be identified said show business will forgive an actor for committing what is perceived to be a "victimless" crime. Hugh Grant can be caught with a hooker or Eddie Murphy can pick up a transvestite and studios won't think twice about giving them leading roles. But if an actor is accused of a heinous crime, and the perception is the star did it, it's a different matter. "If you kill somebody or knife somebody," the attorney said, "it's probably not as easy to get work in this town."

Comedian Marty Ingels, the husband of actress Shirley Jones, and a controversial figure in his own right, said image is everything.

"Shirley is so loved that when I married her, I got death threats," Ingels said. The comedian noted that he and his wife have a running joke that Shirley has such a goody-two-shoes image that if the police arrived and found her holding a knife and Ingels with 45 stab wounds on his body, the police would say, "An amazing case of suicide. We don't know how this happened."

"Elizabeth Taylor broke up 6,000 marriages," Ingels said. "It didn't matter [to her career] because that's what she did. Now, if Florence Henderson broke up a small home of midgets, they'd have her in a minute.

"Hollywood seems to be very, very inconsistent about who it forgives and who it doesn't forgive," he added. "There's no hard-and-fast rule. All the way back to Robert Mitchum -- he got busted for pot and his career was never bigger. But Eddie Fisher, who played around, got killed [for cheating] on Debbie Reynolds. They wouldn't stand for that."

Blake had trouble getting work when Bernstein represented him, according to the manager, because the actor is a perfectionist, which in Hollywood translates into "difficult."

Still, he believes Blake could get back in the business, perhaps guest starring on a show like "Law & Order" or a "CSI" series. "He'll get a chance to prove himself on these shows. I don't think, in the beginning, they'll give him his own series." As for movies, Bernstein said Blake will likely be offered roles in smaller, independent films -- not studio films. "Is Robert Blake going to do a film like 'Alexander'? No. There aren't that many places for someone his age."

But he could do a reality show. After all, Bernstein noted, Farrah Fawcett is now doing one. "This is an opening for her," Bernstein said. "This is a woman who did 'The Burning Bed,' 'Extremities,' 'Small Sacrifices.' Two years ago she did a guest spot on 'The Guardian' and got an Emmy [nomination]. This year she's doing [the reality show]. It's like when she did the Playboy cover -- she got seven figures for that. Both of them. She did two of them."

Bernstein believes Blake might even excel as a radio talk-show host, much like Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy, who has managed to carve out a niche for himself in radio. "Is [Blake] someone who has that kind of personality where he wants to talk to everybody? No. But G. Gordon Liddy didn't have a gift for gab either."

Proving that Hollywood is, indeed, a small world, one of the producers who has come forward with a job offer for Blake is Bob DeBrino, who is also actor Tom Sizemore's manager. DeBrino is a producer on the new Sidney Lumet movie, "Find Me Guilty," starring Vin Diesel.

DeBrino has extended an "open invitation" to Blake to play a small role in his next movie, "Over the Blue Line," which begins filming in Miami in May. The film tells the story of an undercover cop who cracks up and goes over the line, the producer said. The part he envisions for Blake is the officer's boss and would require two to four days of filming.

"I believe in giving someone a break when they're down just as people gave me breaks when I was down," DeBrino said. "He's a tremendously talented actor and I'm sure any producer and director would want to work with him."

The producer said it doesn't concern him that some people may think Blake is a murderer.

"It's not what they think," he said, "it's what the justice system thinks. I think in this case, justice prevailed."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The Blake files

Name: Michael Gubitosi, a.k.a. Robert Blake

Birthplace: Nutley, N.J.

Age: 71

Nationality: American

Profession: Actor

Work experience:

1997: acted in "Lost Highway" directed by David Lynch

1995: film comeback in "Money Train"

1993: TV comeback in "Judgment Day: The John List Story" (CBS)

1983: portrayed Jimmy Hoffa in "Blood Feud" miniseries

1975-1978: starred as Det. Tony Baretta in hit TV series "Baretta" (ABC)

1967: breakthrough movie role as Perry Smith in "In Cold Blood"

1948: played bit part as child in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre"

1939: performed in numerous "Our Gang" shorts

Other information:

Acquitted by L.A. jury in March 2005 for the murder of his second wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.

Source: IMDB and Baseline

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