Inside Robert Blake’s Dark Mind


I’m reading a book about director Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, Coming Home), who in 1979 did a movie called The Hamster of Happiness, which came out two years later as Second-Hand Hearts.

By any name, it was deemed an atrocity and an insult to hamsters everywhere. Leonard Maltin‘s review: “Robert Blake, beer-bellied and jowly, is Loyal Muke (rhymes with Puke), middle-aged drifter who married Dinette Dusty (Barbara Harris) while in a drunken stupor. Pointless, confusing, overblown; a comedy that is embarrassingly unfunny.”

But hey, I sort of liked it.

In the book, the film’s still photographer notes that Blake was extremely difficult and moody to work with. When she took a photo of the actor at one point, he became incensed and threatened to break the camera if he ever saw it again.

The author takes the point of view that Blake seemed scarred by his early fame as a child star. During filming, he told an interviewer his credo: “If you fight with me, I will fight with you forever. But if you mess with me, I’ll kill you.”

Chilling words considering that years later, Blake went back to a restaurant to retrieve his gun and came out to find that someone else had shot his wife, blah blah!

According to the book, Blake’s Hamster costar, Barbara Harris, was every bit as nutty as he was (but in a less toxic way),

Harris hated Blake so much that sometimes she wouldn’t even come out of her trailer.

She was going through an insecure period–which lasted quite a few years–and had to write her lines on her hands and on visible bottles on the set.

What’s more, she would come in with a fixed idea of how to play each scene, even as Blake overacted and shouted and kept aiming for quick-changing methody emotions.

Sounds to me like Barbara Harris was crazy all right–to come out of her trailer!