Trackdown (TV series)

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Robert Culp Trackdown 1957.JPG
Robert Culp as Hoby Gilman (1957)
Genre Western
Written by D.D. Beauchamp
Frank Burt
Fred Freiberger
Norman Jacobs
Christopher Knopf
Sidney Marshall
John McGreevey
John Robinson
Sam Peckinpah
Directed by Thomas Carr
Lawrence Dobkin
Richard Donner
Don McDougall
R.G. Springsteen
Starring Robert Culp
Ellen Corby
Peter Leeds
Norman Leavitt
James Griffith
Gail Kobe
Addison Richards
Theme music composer William Loose
and John Seely
Composer(s) Harry King
Country of origin USA
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 2
No. of episodes 71 plus pilot
Producer(s) Vincent M. Fennelly
Cinematography Guy Roe
Running time 25 mins.
Original network CBS
Picture format Black-and-white
Audio format Monaural
Original release 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 70 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. In early episodes, stories focused on Gilman going to different Texas towns in pursuit of wanted fugitives. At midseason, the series became set in the fictional town of Porter, Texas. (Porter isn't a fictional town, but there aren't any mountains where it is located on US 59 between Houston and Livingston)

Gilman is the de facto sheriff in Porter. His friends in the town include Henrietta Porter, portrayed by Ellen Corby (who later played Esther Walton on CBS's The Waltons). She is the widow of the town's founder and owns The Porter Enterprise newspaper.[1] Occasionally, his duties as a Texas Ranger took him out of town, where he used his fast gun to "track down" and apprehend wanted criminals throughout the Lone Star State.

In the second season, Peter Leeds played Tenner Smith, the owner of the local saloon, and 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.[1]

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 The Lineup star Tom Tully, is a drunken shell of the man whom 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, he picked up the badge and finished the job of bringing Nelson and his gang to justice.[2]

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 about 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."[1]

Episode list[edit]

Season one: 1957–58[edit]

  1. "The Marple Brothers" – 1957.Oct.04
  2. "Law in Lampasas" – 1957.Oct.11
  3. "The San Saba Incident" – 1957.Oct.18
  4. "Easton, Texas" – 1957.Oct.25
  5. "Like Father" – 1957.Nov.01
  6. "Sweetwater, Texas" – 1957.Nov.08
  7. "Alpine, Texas" – 1957.Nov.15
  8. "Self-Defense" – 1957.Nov.22
  9. "End of an Outlaw" – 1957.Nov.29
  10. "Look for the Woman" – 1957.Dec.06
  11. "The Town" – 1957.Dec.13
  12. "Man and Money" – 1957.Dec.27
  13. "The Reward" – 1958.Jan.03
  14. "The Farrand Story" – 1958.Jan.10
  15. "Right of Way" – 1958.Jan.17
  16. "The Witness" – 1958.Jan.24
  17. "The Toll Road" – 1958.Jan.31
  18. "The Young Gun" – 1958.Feb.07
  19. "The Wedding" – 1958.Feb.14
  20. "The Trail" – 1958.Feb.28
  21. "The Bounty Hunter" – 1958.Mar.07
  22. "The Judge" – 1958.Mar.14
  23. "The House" – 1958.Mar.21
  24. "The Boy" – 1958.Mar.28
  25. "The Pueblo Kid" – 1958.Apr.04
  26. "The Winter Boys" – 1958.Apr.11
  27. "The Mistake" – 1958.Apr.18
  28. "The Deal" – 1958.Apr.25
  29. "The Jailbreak" – 1958.May.02
  30. "The End of the World" – 1958.May.09
  31. "The Brothers" – 1958.May.16
  32. "The Governor" – 1958.May.23

Season two: 1958–59[edit]

  1. "Killer Take All" – 1958.Sep.05
  2. "Outlaw's Wife" – 1958.Sep.12
  3. "Chinese Cowboy" – 1958.Sep.19
  4. "The Set Up" – 1958.Sep.26
  5. "A Stone for Benny French" – 1958.Oct.03
  6. "Trapped" – 1958.Oct.10
  7. "Matter of Justice" – 1958.Oct.17
  8. "Tenner Smith" – 1958.Oct.24
  9. "The Avenger" – 1958.Oct.31
  10. "The Schoolteacher" – 1958.Nov.07
  11. "Deadly Decoy" – 1958.Nov.14
  12. "Sunday's Child" – 1958.Nov.21
  13. "Day of Vengeance" – 1958.Nov.28
  14. "Three-Legged Fox" – 1958.Dec.05
  15. "The Kid" – 1958.Dec.12
  16. "Guilt" – 1958.Dec.19
  17. "Every Man a Witness" – 1958.Dec.26
  18. "McCallin's Daughter" – 1959.Jan.02
  19. "Bad Judgment" – 1959.Jan.28
  20. "Terror" – 1959.Feb.04
  21. "The Feud" – 1959.Feb.11
  22. "The Samaritan" – 1959.Feb.18
  23. "The Gang" – 1959.Feb.25
  24. "The Threat" – 1959.Mar.04
  25. "Hard Lines" – 1959.Mar.11
  26. "Fear" – 1959.Mar.18
  27. "Stranger in Town" – 1959.Mar.25
  28. "The Protector" – 1959.Apr.01
  29. "False Witness" – 1959.Apr.08
  30. "The Trick" – 1959.Apr.15
  31. "The Eyes of Jerry Kelso" – 1959.Apr.22
  32. "Gift Horse" – 1959.Apr.29
  33. "The Vote" – 1959.May.06
  34. "The Unwanted" – 1959.May.13
  35. "Toss Up" – 1959.May.20
  36. "Inquest" – 1959.Sep.02
  37. "Back to Crawford" – 1959.Sep.09
  38. "Blind Alley" – 1959.Sep.16
  39. "Quiet Night in Porter" – 1959.Sep.23

Selected episodes[edit]

Trackdown episodes touched on multiple Western themes and topics, so it was known as "the thinking man's western."[3][4] Although the show had its share of action, unlike other Westerns of the period, wanton violence was toned down in favor of character development. In the premiere episode, "The Marple Brothers", Gilman is in fictional Stockton, Texas, where sibling 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 and rescues 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, later locating her aunt and arresting the killer.[1]

A week later in "Alpine, Texas", Gilman 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.[1]

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.[1]

In the episode titled "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 Trackdown and many other Westerns, Corby won a Golden Boot award in 1989.[1]

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 to investigate a bank robbery and goes undercover to gain information to solve the case.[1]

In “The End of the World”, a rabble-rousing doomsayer named Walter Trump comes to town. He scares the townsfolk with talk of an impending disaster and claims to be the only person who can save them – by building a wall. He also threatens to sue Hoby when accused of dishonesty. By the end of the episode, he is arrested as a conman and fraud. The coincidental similarity to Donald Trump's name and proposed border wall was noted after his 2016 election.[5] Irish rock band U2 used a clip from this episode preceding performances of the song "Exit" on The Joshua Tree Tour 2017. The band was pleased when Bono discovered it, as they wanted to make a reference to US President Donald Trump during the show without belaboring their point.

In addition to Steve McQueen, who starred in the successful Trackdown spinoff, Wanted: Dead Or Alive, four other future co-stars of television series also produced by Four Star Television played in Trackdown episodes:

Russell Thorson, who later co-starred in the ABC/Four Star hit series The Detectives played in the Trackdown episodes "The Protector" as a crooked sheriff, and "McCallin's Daughter" as Dr. Aaron Hosper.[6][7]

Johnny Crawford, one of the original Mouseketeers from The Mickey Mouse Club and future co-star of the successful ABC/Four Star series The Rifleman as Mark McCain, also played Eric Payne in two Trackdown episodes, "The Boy" and "The Deal".[8][9]

Don Durant, who went on to star in the popular (but cancelled after one season) CBS/Four Star series, Johnny Ringo, played in the Trackdown episodes "Killer Take All" and "A Quiet Night in Porter".[10][11]

Karen Sharpe' who also co-starred in Johnny Ringo as Johnny's love interest Laura Thomas, was featured in the Trackdown episode "The Young Gun".[12]

Guest stars[edit]


Steve McQueen first appeared as the bounty hunter Josh Randall in a March 1958 episode ("The Bounty Hunter") which served as the pilot of his own subsequent CBS series, Wanted: Dead or Alive, a spin-off of Trackdown, launched the following broadcast season. Both series were presented in half-hour episodes and filmed in black and white.[1] McQueen also appeared in a May 1958 episode of Trackdown titled "The Brothers", in which he played a dual role.

Production notes[edit]

All Trackdown episodes were produced by Vincent Fennelly.[13] John Robinson wrote 14 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.[1] Robert Culp wrote one episode titled "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 portrayed a former childhood friend of Hoby's, Merrilee Quintana, with whom Hoby was once in love, 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.[14][15][16] His sister was played by actress Peggy Webber, reprising her role from the series pilot.[17][18] She went on to guest-star in "Child Out of Time", an episode of Culp's series I Spy a few years later.[19]

In an interview, Robert Culp stated that Trackdown was conceived by its creators as "the Western Dragnet".[3][20][21] The pilot of the series was written by John Robinson, who according to Culp in that same interview, was partly responsible for the creation of Dragnet[21] 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. Hoby Gilman's use of the Smith & Wesson .44 Schofield revolver instead of the more-popular Colt Peacemaker is also notable.

Syndicated reruns of this series have been broadcast in the early 2000s on TV Land and other cable networks. CBS Television Distribution now has the TV distribution rights to Trackdown due to CBS's ownership of the show via its co-production with Four Star.

Unlike the series that spawned it, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, and the series which it spawned, Wanted: Dead or Alive, as of 2018, Trackdown has not had an official DVD release.

In late 2016, episodes of Robert Culp's Trackdown began airing Saturday mornings on MeTV.[22]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j 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
  2. ^ "YouTube". Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Do You Remember... "Trackdown"". Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  4. ^ "Culp interview". Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  5. ^ Evon, Dan (13 January 2017). "Did a 1950s TV Episode Feature a Character Named Trump Who Offered to Build a Protective Wall?". Retrieved 15 May 2017. 
  6. ^ "The Protector". 1 April 1959 – via IMDb. 
  7. ^ "McCallin's Daughter". 2 January 1959 – via IMDb. 
  8. ^ "The Deal". 1 January 2000 – via IMDb. 
  9. ^ "The Boy". 1 January 2000 – via IMDb. 
  10. ^ "Killer Take All". 5 September 1958 – via IMDb. 
  11. ^ "Quiet Night in Porter". 1 January 2000 – via IMDb. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Vincent M. Fennelly". 
  14. ^ Michelle Palmer (27 June 2011). ""Trackdown" The Marple Brothers (TV Episode 1957)". IMDb. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  15. ^ Michelle Palmer (11 November 2011). ""Trackdown" Back to Crawford (TV Episode 1959)". IMDb. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  16. ^ "Trackdown Back To Crawford Part 1 – Written by Robert Culp". YouTube. 10 March 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  17. ^ "Peggy Webber". IMDb. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  18. ^ "Peggy Webber". 
  19. ^ "Child Out of Time". 11 January 1967 – via IMDb. 
  20. ^ "Robert Culp". Archive of American Television. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  21. ^ a b "Trackdown". Archive of American Television. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  22. ^ "Schedule". 

External links[edit]