LOS ANGELES – Actor Robert Blake, arrested Thursday in the killing of his wife, has made a career out of playing violent characters.
Although he's best known as the tough-talking TV cop Baretta, Blake's breakthrough performance was as real-life killer Perry Smith in the 1967 film adaptation of writer Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.
Smith was hanged along with an accomplice for the murders of a wealthy Kansas farmer and his family during a 1959 robbery.
Blake's next film was Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, a Western in which he played an American Indian who kills his girlfriend's father and goes on the run. Robert Redford co-starred as the sheriff hunting him.
Even in the Biblical drama The Greatest Story Ever Told, which chronicled the life of Jesus, Blake portrayed the radical apostle Simon, once known as "the Zealot" for supporting violence against Rome.
He also played a vigilante priest in the short-lived TV series Hell Town in 1985, then faded from the spotlight during eight years of semi-retirement.
Blake made a comeback in 1993 as the star of the television movie Judgment Day: The John List Story, a true story about a soft-spoken, church-going man who murders his wife and their three children.
As a child, Blake — credited as Bobby Blake — appeared in dozens of films as Mickey in the Our Gang comic shorts of the 1930s and '40s then as Little Beaver in the Red Ryder Westerns.
He played the little Mexican boy selling lottery tickets to Humphrey Bogart in 1948's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and had numerous other bit parts until his little boy cuteness faded and his tough-guy persona emerged.
He was born Michael Gubitosi in Nutley, N.J., to parents he called "committably insane."
"My father was a sadistic, madman alcoholic who killed himself when he was 40-some years old," he said. "My mother was equally bad, if not worse, because she saw what was happening and did nothing about it."
He admitted committing petty crimes in his younger years and often struggled with alcohol and drug addiction.
His greatest success came as a hard-edged detective on the 1975-1978 series Baretta. Unlike many of Blake's characters, Baretta had a clear view of right and wrong.
"I told you, man, nobody kills nobody. That's the rules. I don't know no other way," the detective declared as he busted a killer in one episode of the drama.