Robert Blake was at the home of his eldest daughter Delinah last Thursday when his lawyer, Harland Braun, called to say police were on their way to arrest him for killing his wife. The former TV and movie actor (he played the title role in the '70s detective series Baretta and starred in the film In Cold Blood in 1967) was dressed casually in short pants. Blake's first question to Braun was pure Hollywood: Should he change clothes?
So opened the latest tawdry act in the current Los Angeles celebrity-murder scandal, involving tough-guy actor Blake, 68, and his wife Bonny Bakley, 44, an ex-model with a history of petty crime who was shot to death after dining with Blake at a Studio City restaurant last May. Blake told police at the time that after walking Bakley to his car, he returned to the restaurant to retrieve his legally held pistol, which had slipped out of his waistband. When he came back, he said, he found his wife had been shot. Blake is due to be arraigned this week. The police say he will be charged with one count of murder with special circumstances (lying in wait) and two counts of solicitation of murder. The aggravated-murder charge can carry the death penalty. Blake's bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, was also arrested, and police say he will be charged with one count of conspiracy to commit murder. A creepy bit of foreshadowing: in the pilot episode of Baretta, the cop's TV wife is killed outside a restaurant.
Shades of O.J.: a celebrity accused of killing his blond wife, a long journey across L.A. in a white car filmed from the sky by news helicopters, public recriminations from the victim's family. "I had no doubt Blake did it or, at the very least, wrote someone a check to take care of it," Peter Carlyon, the victim's brother, told TIME. "I think he probably pulled the trigger himself." There is even a detective on the case named Ron Ito, though police quickly noted that he isn't related to Lance Ito, the judge in the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial.
But any tabloid hoping to cash in on a rerun is likely to be disappointed. If the O.J. case was a feature film fit for the multiplex, this is a straight-to-video rental. True, there is seamy intrigue. Bakley was a confessed celebrity stalker who sent nude pictures of herself to lonely men to solicit money. But there is no racial component in the case. Blake and Bakley's marriage never had the passion of Nicole Brown and Simpson's early days. Blake married Bakley only after she had a baby (Rose, now nearly 2) and a DNA test proved he was the father. Nor does Blake rank as high as Simpson on the celebrity scale. Blake, his youthful promise long gone, is merely a washed-up actor; Simpson is a washed-up actor who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The L.A.P.D. and the district attorney's office, needless to say, don't want a Simpson-like case--especially now. The L.A.P.D. has been in turmoil since the city council voted last week not to extend Chief Bernard Parks' contract. Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn says Parks is being pushed out partly because of rising crime rates. Parks, the most prominent African American in city government in L.A., says the reason is dirty politics.