'It Sounds Like An Episode Of Baretta'

You probably hadn't thought about "Baretta" for at least 20 years. But then Robert Blake's wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, was shot and killed Friday night in Los Angeles in an incident that has the whole country talking.

Of course, there are those who never quite got over the cancellation of "Baretta," the 1970s TV show. One of them is Carl Hose, a 39-year-old Missouri man who created the Internet's first Web site devoted to "Baretta" about 18 months ago. NEWSWEEK's B. J. Sigesmund talked with the Webmaster of www.carlhose.com/baretta/Baretta.htm on Tuesday about Blake's career arc, his site's unbelivable rise in traffic over the weekend and what he makes of the still-unfolding case.

NEWSWEEK: First of all, how did your Web site come about?

Carl Hose: I have been watching "Baretta" since I was in high school. About two years ago, I started getting nostalgic. I figured that you could find anything on the Internet. So I typed in "Baretta" and Robert Blake and neither one brought up much. The only other site I found was bobbyblake.com, which was Robert Blake's own Web site.

That's gone, right?

It went down about six months ago. I figured he didn't pay the bill or got tired of maintaining it. There were personal pictures from his childhood and stuff from his appearances on Johnny Carson. Anyway, I set about putting up my own site. I'm a big Robert Blake fan, but "Baretta" in particular. I wanted to put up the theme song, which everyone wanted to hear again. It brings back a lot of memories for me. The show was on on Wednesdays at 8 p.m; I had to fight to stay up that late. That was the big night for me. I never missed an episode.

What's your traffic usually like?

I get anywhere from 15 to 20 visitors a day. I get e-mail every day, at least one or two, from people who remember the show.

What exactly is on the site?

My own original "Baretta" stories. Pictures from "Baretta." A lot of promotional stuff, a lot of collectible items like jigsaw puzzles and board games and a Halloween costume. All of it's for sale. People mostly ask for T-shirts. I only have one left. That and the glossy photos. I even have the sheet music to the theme song. There's an episode list on there, and a thing called "rap sheet," where I list the recurring characters, and a little "Baretta" trivia.

This can't be your regular job. What do you really do for work?

I work at a rehab center for teenagers, and I write. Horror, mostly. I have an anthology, "Cold Storage" and an e-book anthology, "Between Pleasure and Pain." Robert Blake, at the height of his fame in "Baretta"

And where do you live?

About 30 miles south of St. Louis in Festus, Missouri.

When did you hear about the Friday night shooting of Robert Blake's wife, Bonny Lee Bakley?

As of Friday, I hadn't heard anything about it. Then my mom called. She left a message and said, "Sounds suspicious to me." I took a look at the site. I had 5,000 visitors that Friday. By Saturday morning, 12,000. Saturday night, 19,000 people. As of today, 25,000. I've gotten a couple of cruel joke e-mails, but mostly people have been pretty supportive.

What are the people saying on your message boards?

None of the "Baretta" fans really believe that Robert Blake has anything to do with it. They pray for him and offer their condolences.

What are your personal thoughts about the incident?

Obviously, as a Robert Blake fan, I don't want to believe he had any involvement in it. Frankly, it sounds like an episode of "Baretta." There was one in which he was going to get married-to the only girl he ever loved-and as they were coming out of a restaurant, a black car drove by with some mafia people in it and they open fired on him. But they got her instead and she ended up dying. The name of episode was "He'll Never See Daylight."

As far as the case itself, I don't like to speculate. People have become so jaded, we only think the worst. Things seem weird, but all the facts haven't come out. Here's what I wonder about, though: if she was being stalked, why did he leave her a block and a half away? Little things like that are nagging. So in my head I want to believe he has nothing to do with it. But you're left wondering about these things.

You've followed him for a long time. Give us the early career highlights.

In 1939, when he was six, he was cast in "Our Gang." In the 1940s, he played Little Beaver in the "Red Ryder" series. In 1948, he played a Mexican boy-even though he's Italian-who sold a newspaper to Humphrey Bogart in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre." In the 1950s and 1960s, he got into TV. Little parts in the western serials. The next big thing he did was "In Cold Blood" (1967). But that messed him up.

Can you elaborate?

It was shortly after the end of that film that he had a lot of breakdowns and depressions.

"In Cold Blood" drained him emotionally. Playing the killer sent him into a depression. Later came the alcohol and drug [sleeping pills] problems. He's been pretty open about those. He's always been prone to depression. And he never spoke very highly of his father. He's talked a lot about how he didn't have a very supportive childhood. Sometimes actors who want to do something serious can't be taken seriously. This led to his hitting the bottom.

Then something good happened, right? "Baretta?"

Well, no. First he did a string of movies that didn't do too well. "Electra Glide in Blue" (1973). I liked that movie. "Busting" (1974) with Elliott Gould. He thought that TV and movies should make social statements and be a powerful tool to change things. He wanted them to be political, not so mindless. He went through a string of flops and got increasingly frustrated with movies. That's when he returned to TV.

That's when he got "Baretta."

Yes, and that was his big comeback. He's always been big on "Baretta" being him-that he made it live. He also was not the easiest person to work with on the set. This is public knowledge, but he threatened to throw people off the set of "Baretta." Baretta was him, and he took it really personally. He'd blow up at producers, threaten to throw them out of windows.

"Baretta" went off the air in 1978. He's had some other roles since then, right?

Yes, he played Jimmy Hoffa on TV in "Blood Feud" (1983). He was excellent there. He played in a short series called "Hell Town," which was like "Baretta" only he was dressed like a priest. I liked the show, but it didn't last even a season. The next time I saw him was in "Money Train" (1995) with Woody Harrelson. And then the most recent thing was something called "Lost Highway" (1997, directed by David Lynch), which I haven't seen.

That's the one thing I have seen! He was the most memorable thing in that movie. Any last words about Robert Blake before we finish up?

I just want to say I hope it turns out he's had nothing to do with this and it's just an accident. I hope it turns out she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Growing up, I just completely admired the character, the way he focused on getting the job done. It was the integrity of the character that drew me to him. I'd hate to see that destroyed.