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teaser Mokey (1942)

Many children appeared in the Our Gang comedy shorts during the years (1922-1944) the films were made. Only a handful went on to success as child actors in feature films, and even fewer forged successful adult careers. One of those who did was Robert Blake. Born Michael Gubitosi, Blake wasn't a part of the Our Gang cast in its early 30s heyday at the Hal Roach Studios, but only joined after the series moved to MGM. From 1939 until the series ended, Blake appeared in 40 Our Gang comedies, most of that time billed as "Mickey Gubitosi." With his sweet, wistful face, Mickey soon became a star of the series, though Leonard Maltin in his book, Selected Short Subjects, complains that he "delivered every line with a whine in his voice." In the early 1940s, he began to use Bobby Blake as his professional name, although he continued to use Mickey Gubitosi in the Our Gang films for several years, until he became better known as Bobby Blake.

One of the first features in which he appeared under the name Bobby Blake was Mokey (1942), a B-movie programmer produced by J. Walter Ruben, who was the producer of the Maisie B-movie series. Third-billed after young newcomers Dan Dailey (billed as "Dan Dailey, Jr.") and Donna Reed, Blake plays the title character, an eight-year old whose mother has died and whose father re-marries. Mokey is a mischievous brat who makes his new stepmother's life hell before the expected happy ending. Featured in the film as Mokey's playmate is Our Gang co-star William "Buckwheat" Thomas. Playing the warm-hearted family maid is Etta McDaniel, sister of Hattie McDaniel.

Mokey was the first film in which Dailey and Reed received top billing, as Mokey's mostly absent father and new stepmother. Iowa native Reed had been discovered when she was chosen Campus Queen at Los Angeles City College, and signed to a contract by MGM in 1941. As a young contract player, she had supporting roles in the studio's Thin Man, Andy Hardy, and Dr. Kildare series during her first year at the studio. Dailey, a vaudeville and Broadway hoofer, had been signed by MGM in 1939, and had been playing supporting roles, mostly as thugs. Dailey's greatest success would come as a song and dance man, after he returned from serving in World War II and signed with 20th Century Fox. Reed, typecast as a good girl, would also have to leave MGM to find stardom. She signed with Columbia and earned a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award playing a prostitute in From Here to Eternity (1953). But she returned to her good-girl roots when she became one of the first movie stars to have a hit television series, playing the perfect wife of a doctor in The Donna Reed Show (1958-66).

Blake's path to stardom was more tumultuous. After the Our Gang comedies ended in the mid-40s, Blake segued right into the role of the Indian boy Little Beaver in Republic's Red Ryder series. He also had roles in features such as Humoresque (1946) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). But he later remembered his childhood as miserable, and claimed his alcoholic parents abused him. After serving in the military in the 1950s, he tried to resuscitate his career, but in spite of some excellent performances he didn't achieve stardom. He struggled with drug problems, overcame them, and received acclaim for his portrayal of murderer Perry Smith in the film version of Truman Capote's true crime story, In Cold Blood (1967). Blake followed that with another strong performance, in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), but neither film was a hit at the box office. In spite of a popular television series, Baretta (1975-78), and other well-received work, Blake's private life has continued to be turbulent over the past three decades. The murder of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley in 2001, and Blake's subsequent trial and acquittal in her death have kept him in the public eye, but he has been unable to find work as an actor, and his career appears to be over.

Director: Wells Root
Producer: J. Walter Ruben
Screenplay: Wells Root, Jan Fortune, based on stories by Jennie Harris Oliver
Cinematography: Charles Rosher
Editor: Frank Sullivan
Music: Lennie Hayton
Cast: Dan Dailey (Herbert Delano), Donna Reed (Anthea Delano), Robert Blake (Mokey Delano), Cordell Hickman (Booker T. Cumby), William "Buckwheat" Thomas (Brother Cumby), Etta McDaniel (Cindy Molishus), Marcella Moreland (Begonia Cumby).
BW-88m. Closed captioning.

by Margarita Landazuri

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