BOBBY BLAKE (1933 – ) as Little Beaver (R) with Bill Elliott as Red Ryder
He was born Mickey Gubitosi in New Jersey in 1933, a name he continued to use for the first three years of his movie career. After that he acted under the name Bobby Blake in the Our Gang featurettes. MGM started him in the series when he was just five years old and Bobby instantly gained a following. He was cute with a lovable, although somewhat melancholy, personality. Between 1944 and 1947 he appeared in over 20 ‘Red Ryder’ films (playing Little Beaver). Throughout the remainder of the forties and fifties he appeared in numerous other features and landed spots in the exciting new medium of television.
Blake(L) and Scott Wilson in In Cold Blood (1967)
As Blake entered adulthood he quickly demonstrated an acting ability few child stars did. He dropped the ‘Bobby’ and became Robert Blake. After numerous guest spots in many TV series he landed a great role as the real life killer Perry Smith in the movie version of Truman Capote’s best-selling novel In Cold Blood (1967). His performance was critically acclaimed and he must have been disappointed to have been overlooked at Oscar time, especially when the picture rightly earned four nominations anyway. Nevertheless, his acting on the small screen did not go unrewarded and in 1976 he won a Golden Globe for ‘Best Actor in a Television Series’. His portrayal of the title character in his successful series Baretta well and truly deserved the acknowledgement of the industry.
as the star of Baretta
Blake had emerged as a successful adult actor, but he had demons to deal with. His appalling childhood came back to haunt him. And appalling it truly was. He had suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his monstrous father for years. The man even tied him up like a dog and made him sleep under the porch! Little wonder such treatment affected Blake psychologically. Little wonder he found dubious comfort in drugs, even as Baretta was winning awards. Because of his drug use, Blake became increasingly difficult to work with until he eventually walked out on his subsequent successful series Hell Town (1985).
Blake in 2001 Bonnie Bakley
It would be eight years before he re-surfaced and began television work again. Then, in 2001, his wife Bonnie Bakley was murdered and he became the prime suspect. His trial drew headlines around the world and a great many pundits felt he should have been convicted. However, there was a presumption of innocence from the jurors who found the evidence against him to be flimsy. Bonnie had been shot in the head while sitting in her car outside a restaurant awaiting his return. Blake probably did not personally shoot her, but some argued that he may have hired someone to do it. The prosecution certainly thought so, but they were unable to convince the jury.
Blake and Pamela Hudak
Legal costs had sent Blake broke and he desperately hoped he might still be able to find acting work and resurrect his career. It didn’t happen. Then a civil suit was brought to bear on behalf of the dead woman’s children. He was found liable for her murder and ordered to pay $30 million in damages. Of course, he had nothing like that kind of money. Fast-forward to 2017 and the 83 year-old Blake recently married a woman named Pamela Hudak, a lady he has known for decades. Perhaps, he has found peace at last. Only time will tell.
JIMMY BOYD (1939 – 2009)
Jimmy was born on a struggling family farm in Mississippi during the Depression. His father gave him a guitar and harmonica lessons when he was four, and by the age of seven he was performing in barn dances after the family had moved to California. His movie and television career kicked off in 1952 after a song he recorded that year, a novelty tune called ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’, took off like a rocket and hit #1 on Billboard within just three weeks of its release. After 10 weeks it had sold two million records and his name was known around the world. The astounding success of the tune even surprised him. ‘I like it personally’, he told Time magazine, ‘but I didn’t think anyone would buy it.’
Yvonne & Jimmy Yvonne Craig as Batgirl
The song’s success opened other doors for Jimmy and he was soon appearing in movies and on the new medium of television. In 1960 he appeared in the Bing Crosby film High Time, and there he met up and coming actress Yvonne Craig. A few years later she would gain a following as Batgirl in the camp television series Batman (1966-7). She and Jimmy fell in love on the set and married in August 1960. The union did not last, however, and they divorced a couple of years later.
Jimmy had several hits in the fifties, the biggest being ‘Tell Me a Story’, which he recorded with Frankie Laine, and ‘Dennis the Menace’, another duet, this time with Rosemary Clooney. From 1958 to 1961 he played Noreen Corcoran’s boyfriend in TV’s Bachelor Father. By 1967 his recording career was over. Being drafted into the army for the Vietnam War in the early sixties did little to prolong his show business days. His final screen credit (there were only 23 in total) was a small role in the 1983 picture Brainstorm. He died from cancer at the age of 70 in 2009.
BOBBY BUNTROCK (1952 – 74)
Fans of the 1961-66 sitcom Hazel, that starred Shirley Booth in the title role, supported by Don DeFore and Whitney Blake, will remember Bobby Buntrock as Harold ‘Sport’ Baxter. He was 8 years old when the series kicked off and nearly 14 when it was finally cancelled in 1966. In 1967 he appeared in two guest spots on The Virginian before retiring from acting altogether in the same year.
Shirley Booth and Bobby in Hazel
On April 7, 1974, the 21 year-old former actor drove his car onto a bridge in Keystone, South Dakota, unaware of the existence of a large hole, filled with 10 to 15 feet of water, situated in the middle of the bridge. The damage was a legacy of the South Dakota Flood of 1972 and it should have been repaired or at the very least sign-posted. But it was not. Bobby’s car struck the damaged section of the road at speed and he lost control, flipping the vehicle through the railings and into the creek. It appears he tried to escape the submerged vehicle but was unable to force open the door because it was stuck in the mud at the bottom of the creek. The young man’s death was heart-breaking and it could have been prevented. Indeed, it should have been prevented.