Robert Culp as Hoby Gilman (1957)
|Written by||D.D. Beauchamp
|Directed by||Thomas Carr
|Theme music composer||William Loose
|Country of origin||USA|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||70 plus pilot|
|Producer(s)||Vincent M. Fennelly|
|Running time||30 mins.|
|Original run||October 4, 1957 – September 23, 1959|
|Related shows||Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater
Wanted: Dead or Alive
Trackdown is an American western television series starring Robert Culp that aired more than seventy episodes on CBS between 1957 and 1959. The series was produced by Dick Powell's Four Star Television and filmed at the Desilu-Culver Studio. Trackdown was a spin-off of Powell's anthology series, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater.
Trackdown stars Robert Culp as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman. It is set in the 1870s after the American Civil War about the fictional town of Porter, in Central Texas, not the unincorporated community of Porter in Montgomery County northeast of Houston. The current Porter apparently did not exist until 1892, when a United States Post Office was first established there or perhaps a few years earlier but well after the fictional events of Trackdown.Gilman also is the de facto sheriff in Porter. His friends in the town include Henrietta Porter, portrayed by Ellen Corby, later the character of Esther Walton on CBS's The Waltons. She is the widow of the town's founder and owns The Porter Enterprise newspaper.
Peter Leeds in the second season plays Tenner Smith, the owner of the local saloon, a former gambler and gunslinger with a mysterious past. Other series regulars included Norman Leavitt as Gilman's deputy Ralph, James Griffith as town barber Aaron Adams, Gail Kobe as Penny Adams, the sister of Aaron who shows a romantic interest in Gilman in a few episodes, and Addison Richards as physician Jay Calhoun.
The pilot episode, "Badge of Honor", directed by Arthur Hiller, aired on Zane Grey Theater on May 3, 1957. Gilman, then an ex-Confederate cavalry officer returns to his Central Texas hometown called "Crawford" after the war. He finds the town under the ruthless control of a gang led by an ex-Confederate colonel, Boyd Nelson, played by Gary Merrill. The town sheriff portrayed by Tom Tully is a drunken shell of the man that Gilman had once known who is afraid to face the outlaws. When a Texas Ranger came to arrest Colonel Nelson, he is fatally shot in the back. His Ranger badge falls on the dusty road. Gilman, who previously served with the Texas Rangers, was weary of the Civil War and did not want to continue as a lawman. But after learning of the Ranger's death, Gilman picked up the badge and finished the job of bringing Nelson and his gang to justice.
Trackdown carried the endorsement of both the State of Texas and the Texas Rangers, an accolade no other television series has procured. Some episodes were inspired by the files of the Rangers. Culp's Gilman may have been the first to introduce the concept of "cool" in entertainment, subsequently taken to longer-running success by Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood. On Trackdown, Gilman is frequently shown rolling and smoking cigarettes. "He had a coolness abut himself. Even when he grew angry, he hardly raised his voice. Though he had the voice of a gentleman, his eyes and words came out clear. If he threatened, one would know he was serious, and if he didn't get what he wanted, he had an easy way about him that usually gave him the desired results.
Trackdown episodes touch on multiple western themes and topics.For this reason, it was known as "the thinking man’s western."  In the premiere episode, "The Marple Brothers", Gilman is in fictional Stockton, Texas, where outlaws have taken a church hostage as the gang awaits fresh horses and a doctor to care for one of their wounded. In the sixth segment, "Sweetwater, Texas, Gilman finds a baby girl outside Sweetwater, the only survivor of a stagecoach attack in which the driver and all the passengers have been shot in the back. He leaves the child with a doctor and investigates.
A week later in "Alpine, Texas", finds a town hostile to the Texas Rangers. The narrator begins:
Alpine was like a hundred other towns in Texas. The only thing it had that most others didn't was a railroad spur that connected it to the main line of the Southern Pacific. ... There is nothing unusual about this day in Alpine except that Hoby Gilman, a Texas Ranger, rode in.
At the end of the episode, when Gilman succeeds in reversing the attitude of the community, the narrator concludes:
Alpine is a prosperous town again, but now there's a fine air of security about it. It's a nice town to live in, because they discovered as Hoby said they would, that when it got off its knees, it cast a much bigger shadow than it thought it did. The people of Alpine feel a lot different about a lot of things now, especially Texas Rangers.
In the episode entitled "The Vote", Henrietta Porter advocates for women's suffrage: "Women should have the right to vote. Women should be in politics. They can't do any worse than you men!" For her guest appearances in many other westerns, Corby in 1989 won a Golden Boot award.
In "End of an Outlaw", Gilman and a fellow Ranger halt a bank robbery planned by Sam Bass prior to the outlaw's fateful end on his 27th birthday in Round Rock, Texas. In "Law of the Lampasas", Gilman works to halt the legal lynching of a man he believes not guilty of a crime. The series tackles racial prejudice when Gilman comes to the aid of a Chinese laundry operator being bullied by townsmen. In "The San Saba Incident", he transports four prisoners to the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, one of whom is a woman. In another episode, Gilman is bitten by a rattlesnake while he escorts a prisoner. In another segment, he tracks a carrier of typhoid fever who leaves behind a trail of affliction. In still another, he investigates occurrences linked to witchcraft. In "The Young Gun", Gilman travels to Del Rio, Texas, to investigate a bank robbery and goes undercover to gain information to solve the case.
Steve McQueen first appeared as bounty hunter Josh Randall in an episode which served as the pilot of his own subsequent CBS series, Wanted: Dead or Alive, a spin-off of Trackdown launched the following year. Both series were presented in a half-hour format and filmed in black and white. McQueen also appeared in an earlier episode of Trackdown entitled The Brothers, in which he played a dual role.
All Trackdown episodes were produced by Vincent Fennelly. John Robinson wrote fourteen segments, including the pilot. Richard Donner was one of the directors. Sam Peckinpah wrote one episode, "The Town", about a cowardly community afraid to resist the clutches of an outlaw gang, but he did not direct any Trackdown episodes. Robert Culp wrote one episode entitled "Back To Crawford", which featured his then-wife, Nancy Asch-Culp.This episode was directly related to the first regular series episode,The Marple Brothers, as Nancy played a former childhood friend of Hoby's, Merrilee Quintana,who was out to kill his sister Norah as revenge for his killing her young husband in the line of duty,who was one of the evil Marple Brothers that he encountered in episode one. His sister was played by actress Peggy Webber, reprising her role from the series pilot. She would go on to guest-star in "Child Out of Time", an episode of Culp's series "I Spy" a few years later.
In an interview with series star Robert Culp before his death, he stated that Trackdown was conceived by its creators as "the western Dragnet", The pilot of the series was written by John Robinson, who, according to Culp in that same interview, was one of the men responsible for the creation of Dragnet along with that series' star, Jack Webb.
Trackdown first brought Culp to national public attention, eight years before he starred with Bill Cosby in I Spy. Also notable is Hoby Gilman's use of the Smith & Wesson .44 Schofield revolver instead of the more-popular Colt Peacemaker.
Syndicated reruns of this series have been broadcast in the early 2000s on T.V. Land and other cable networks.
Unlike the series that spawned it, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, and the series which Trackdown spawned, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Trackdown has yet to have an official DVD release.
- Trackdown at the Internet Movie Database
- Trackdown at TV.com
- Trackdown on the "TV Acres" website
- Trackdown episodes starring Robert Culp from YouTube (series is now in Public Domain).
- Do You Remember: Trackdown Starring Robert Culp
- "Porter, TX". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved August 9, 2014.
- Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), pp. 103-106