Conmen, Walls, and Texas Rangers: The 1950s Trump
By Sebastian Velasco Diaz
Conman and doomsayer Walter Trump holding a meeting on a tent in the outskirts of Tampa, Florida, in the 1870s. Courtesy of CBS Television.
It’s interesting when reality manages to predict the outcome of future events. There’ve been several bizarre yet logical coincidences around the ages in which the genius of the human minds formulates situations and characters, and sometime later, said situations and characters become true. However, this must be one of the most curious of said coincidences to date. It can be corroborated through Internet research, as it has been one of the hottest topics in the social media since the information first came to light in mid-January.
Trackdown is an American Western television series which aired in CBS between 1957 and 1959. The series followed the crime-fighting adventures of Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman (played by actor Robert Culp) in post-Civil War US. Gilman was the de facto sheriff in the small town of Porter, Texas, where he had powerful friends and allies, including the widow of the town’s founder. The series ran for 2 seasons with over 60 episodes. Basically, the series got cancelled due to its poor reception, and not many people remember it today.
However, despite its limited run and success, a few select episodes of the series have resurfaced on the social media in 2019. One of those selected episodes is titled The End of the World (It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine with it), which aired in May 1958 on American television. Said episode guest-stars Lawrence Dobkin in the role of Walter Trump, a professional conman who arrives in the small city of Tampa, Florida. Once in the town, he holds a tent meeting. He attracts everyone’s attention (and fear), with the tale of the impending end of the world, a catastrophe beyond everything humankind can think of. But he then tells the populace to calm down, as he’s the only one who can save them from the catastrophe. And how? By building a wall. A wall so big and strong that no force can penetrate through it. Gilman arrives to the town and he and Trump clash immediately: Gilman can recognize Trump as a fraud and a conman, and Trump threatens to sue Gilman for dishonesty. The sheriff won’t arrest Trump as he, too, has fallen for his tale. At the end, Gilman arrests Trump.
It doesn’t take a genius to draw parallels between this episode and the actual situation in the US: A man named Trump who wants to get money to build a wall, is constantly accused of being a fraud.
The footage of the episode was first released in January 2017, coinciding with the beginning of the Trump presidency, but it grabbed relevance and attention after animator Alex Hirsch shared the footage in his Twitter account on January 2019. It is to note that Trump was already a well-known television personality and businessman before entering politics. Also in January 2019, TV show host Trevor Noah posted a clip which shows Trump giving a speech at a graduation ceremony at Wagner College in May 2004, with the quote, “If there’s a concrete wall in front of you, go through it, go over it, go around it”. This is the first time he used the metaphor of a wall, long before his idea of the US-Mexico border wall during his campaign and presidency.
Donald Trump giving a speech to a graduating class at Wagner College, New York, May 21st, 2004. Courtesy of New York Daily News.
Actor Lawrence Dobkin had appeared in several other TV, film, and radio projects, such as I Love Lucy, Star Trek, Raiders of Old California, and as the narrator in Broken Arrow. Dobkin died in 2002 due to a heart failure, aged 83, and his ashes were cast to the Pacific Ocean.
Lawrence Dobkin as he appeared in Raiders of Old California (1957). Courtesy of Wikipedia.
There are many people who believe that the character of Walter Trump in the Trackdown series was based on Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father. According to the theory, Lawrence Dobkin was cast for the role based on his facial similarities to Trump. Fred Trump was investigated by a Senate committee in 1954 under accusations of profiteering, just like his son is being investigated in the present day for his controversial immigration policies.
Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father, in his office in 1965. Courtesy of New York Times.
But, in the end, it’s up to everyone’s individual interpretation. Considering that Trump must’ve been around 12 years old by the time this episode aired on American television, could it be possible that this episode served as his inspiration? Or is it just a mere coincidence?
“When we were kids, we were all afraid of the dark. And we grew up and we weren’t afraid anymore. But it’s funny how a big lie can make us all kids again”—Judge Clement, The End of the World, 1958
“Trackdown”, Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trackdown_(TV_series), accessed September 19th, 2019.
Krol, Charlotte, “1950s show predicted Donald Trump and the Border Wall”, NME, published January 11th, 2019, https://www.nme.com/news/tv/1950s-tv-show-predicted-donald-trump-and-the-border-wall-2429856, accessed September 19th, 2019.
Flynn, Meagan, “Trevor Noah unearths 2004 Trump commencement speech”, The Washington Post, published January 10th, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/01/10/if-theres-concrete-wall-front-you-go-through-it-trump-said-unearthed-commencement-speech/, accessed January 19th, 2019.