Business was buzzing as usual inside the Italian restaurant Vitello when actor Robert Blake and his wife walked in one evening in May 2001.
Blake, who rose to fame in the movie “In Cold Blood” and won an Emmy as a tough detective in the TV series “Baretta,” was a regular on the menu that there was a dish named in his honor – des fusilli pasta with marinara sauce and sautéed spinach.
After paying his bill and saying goodbye to longtime Studio City restaurant owner Steve Restivo, Blake went out that evening with his wife. Moments later, Blake burst into the restaurant. Hysterically, he said someone shot his wife. Dead.
It will be a year before Blake is arrested on suspicion of murder, and three more before he is acquitted.
Mystery and murder have always played well in LA, and it was no different with the violent death of Bonny Lee Bakley. Morbid curious people stopped by Vitello for a photo and a bite to eat. Hollywood Sightseeing Buses have added the Tujunga Avenue restaurant to their list of ghoulish celebrity stops, as has OJ Simpson’s house on Rockingham in Brentwood and Sharon Tate and Roman Polansky’s house on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon, the site of the first Manson family murders.
Business exploded at Vitello amid the notoriety, but Restivo and his brother Joe said the attention was largely unwanted.
“I would prefer someone to come here because a friend heard it was a good place to eat,” Restivo told The Times shortly after the shooting. “And that my friend’s wife is still alive, and he had no problem.”
Still a great personality with a booming voice and charm enough to land dozens of small Hollywood roles thanks to his famous clients, Restivo died Nov. 5 in West Hills Hospital of complications from lung cancer and COVID-19, his son Roy said. Restivo was 81 years old.
Restivo and his brother were born in Sicily and came to Chicago as children. Handy in the kitchen and armed with family recipes such as what would become al Vitello cream ravioli, the two opened a restaurant in the south of town before heading west. The brothers bought the Studio City restaurant in the early 1970s and marveled at the famous patrons strolling there.
One of those clients was Garry Marshall, the late Hollywood director and screenwriter. Over the years, Marshall has used his strength to put Restivo in films such as “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries” and prime-time television dramas “Remington Steele” and “Quincy ME”, among so many. ‘others. Signed photos of his fellow actors, directors and producers slowly filled the walls of Vitello.
Blake was as popular a customer as any restaurant owner could hope to find. He had started playing the role of a child in the short film “Our Gang”, had received critical acclaim in the Oscar-nominated “In Cold Blood,” and had recently appeared in the eccentric neo-noir film. David Lynch “Lost Highway”. He was friendly to customers, tipped generously, and was famous enough to attract autograph seekers.
When police arrived, Blake told officers he left his wife in the car as he returned to the restaurant to retrieve his handgun, a Smith & Wesson revolver, which had slipped from his belt during dinner . When he returned to the car, he told police, Bakley had been shot. The murder weapon, a Walther P38 9mm pistol, was later found in a nearby dumpster.
Blake was acquitted of the murder but, in a subsequent civil trial, jurors found that Blake had “intentionally caused” Bakley’s death and awarded his children $ 30 million. Broke, Blake has practically disappeared from Hollywood.
“It’s tragic, and I don’t know how it’s going to play out,” Restivo said when Blake was arrested. “But I’ll work here until the day I die, I guess, if God gives me the strength.”
Restivo and his brother sold Vitello’s in 2005. Joe died a year later, also a victim of lung cancer.
Restivo is survived by his wife, Sara; sons Roy, Vince and Steve Jr .; one brother, Salvatore; and her sister, Lucy Ricciardone.