Mar 2, 2013

Baretta: Robert Blake, Friendly Enemy

Maybe Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry series originated the fad of antihero cops or detectives, but it saw its peak on 1970s tv.  Suddenly you had to choose between a dozen cops or detectives who broke all of the rules and caused endless headaches to the guys who had to fill out the paperwork, but were tolerated because they got the job done.

There were so many that they had to be distinguished by cool catchphrases or personal quirks.

Kojak sucked a lollipop and said "Who loves ya, baby?"
Cannon was overweight and a gourmand.
James Rockford lived in a trailer with his Dad.

Baretta (1975-78) was distinguished by his massive biceps, his cockatoo named Fred, and his two catchphrases: "You can take that to the bank!" and "That's the name of that tune!"




I never saw it, but you could hardly miss the commercials that featured his the biceps.  Or the theme song:
"Keep your eye on the sparrow, when the going gets narrow."
Two Biblical references -- God keeps his eye on the sparrow, and the narrow road leads to salvation.
I didn't know what it meant, but it was catchy.

Surprising for someone over 40, Robert Blake got substantial attention from the teen magazines. Maybe it was the beefcake, unusual for a 1970s cop show.  In Sweden they even sold paper dolls for kids who wanted to play dress-up with Blake in underwear.

Apparently there was a gay-positive episode in 1977.  At least as gay-positive as tv got in the 1970s.   Baretta befriends a gay teen hustler (Brian Miller) who witnessed the murder of his coworker.



Robert Blake began his career as one of last of the Little Rascals in the 1940s before becoming Little Beaver in a series of films about a Native American kid. TV Westerns followed, including The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok, Roy Rogers, The Broken Arrow, and The Restless Gun.  Though he worked constantly as an adult, he never found a role that matched his childhood success, before or after Baretta.  








Not a lot of gay content in his movies.  Busting (1973) has a scene in a gay bar full of swishy stereotypes.

However, his autobiography, Tales of a Rascal, has many stories about befriending gays and bashing them, making homophobic slurs and speaking out against homophobia: "All of show business owes its entire life to the gay community.  What is that line from Boys in the Band? 'Why does it take a fairy to make something beautiful?'".  He got the quote wrong, but the sentiment resonates, along with the stereotype.

Robert Blake has had an interesting life.