Lawrence Dobkin (September 16, 1919 – October 28, 2002) was an American television director, character actor and screenwriter whose career spanned seven decades.
Dobkin was a prolific performer during the Golden Age of Radio. His voice was used to narrate the classic western Broken Arrow (1950). His film performances include Never Fear (1949), Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and North by Northwest (1959). Preceding the closing credits of each episode of the landmark ABC television network series Naked City (1958–1963), he could be heard saying, “There are eight million stories in the naked city, and this has been one of them.”
Dobkin was born in New York City.
A former child actor, Dobkin began working in radio to pay for his studies at the Yale University School of Drama. He understudied on Broadway before serving with a radio propaganda unit of the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. When he returned to network radio he was one of five actors who played the detective Ellery Queen in The Adventures of Ellery Queen. In The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe (1950–1951), Dobkin played detective Archie Goodwin opposite Sydney Greenstreet’s Nero Wolfe.
While playing Louie, The Saint’s cab-driving sidekick on NBC Radio in 1951, he was asked to step into the lead role of Simon Templar to replace Tom Conway for a single episode — making Dobkin one of the few actors to portray Leslie Charteris’ literary creation.
His other radio work included Escape (1947–1954), Gunsmoke (1952–1961), Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (1956–1960), and the anthology series Lux Radio Theater. “The few of us who are left,” Dobkin said of his radio days not long before he died, “keep telling each other that we never had it so good.”
He was also Lieutenant Matthews on The Adventures of Philip Marlowe, along with several other characters.
Continuing to work as a voice actor throughout his career, Dobkin contributed to the video game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear (1999).
Dobkin began a prolific career in television in 1946, having worked as an actor, narrator and director. In 1953, he guest-starred on Alan Hale, Jr.’s short-lived CBS espionage series set in the Cold War, Biff Baker, U.S.A.. He was cast in an episode of the early syndicated series The Silent Service, based on true stories of the submarine section of the United States Navy. He appeared also in the religion anthology series, Crossroads, based on experiences of American clergymen, and later on the ABC religion drama, Going My Way, starring Gene Kelly.
In the 1950s situation comedy I Love Lucy Dobkin played the roles of “Restaurant Man” in episode 66 (“Ricky and Fred Are TV Fans”), “Waiter” in episode 70 (“Equal Rights”), and “Counterfeiter” in episode 145 (“Paris at Last”).
In the 1957-1958 television season, Dobkin played a director on the CBS sitcom, Mr. Adams and Eve, starring Howard Duff and Ida Lupino as fictitious married actors residing in Beverly Hills, California. He guest-starred in 1958 in the first season of ABC’s The Donna Reed Show.
In 1957, Dobkin appeared in the third episode of the first season of the CBS Television western Have Gun – Will Travel, entitled “The Great Mohave Chase”, as the owner of water rights in the small western town of Mohave.
In the May 9, 1958 episode of the CBS Television western series Trackdown entitled, “The End of the World,” he portrays a con man named Walter Trump who promises to save a town from destruction by building a wall. In recent times, internet posts of this episode have gone viral due to its resemblance to real life US President Donald Trump and his controversial policy on immigration.
In 1960, Dobkin appeared as Kurt Reynolds in the episode “So Dim the Light” of the CBS anthology series The DuPont Show with June Allyson, and as an escape artist on the run from a possible murder charge in Wanted: Dead or Alive. That same year he played “Esteban Garcia” (a long time friend of Marshall Dillon where things go very wrong) in the TV Western Gunsmoke, in the episode “Don Matteo” (S6E7). He appeared in the David Janssen crime drama series, Richard Diamond, Private Detective. Dobkin appeared in four episodes of The Rifleman playing four different characters, including a heartfelt portrayal of General Philip Sheridan from the American Civil War. He appeared in an episode of The Tab Hunter Show in 1961.
Often also cast as a villain, Dobkin portrayed gangster Dutch Schultz on ABC’s The Untouchables. He appeared on the ABC/Warner Brothers crime drama, The Roaring 20s and in the NBC western with a modern setting, Empire. He was cast as a mass murderer in the 1972 pilot for ABC’s The Streets of San Francisco, starring Karl Malden. He guest-starred on ABC’s The Big Valley, starring Barbara Stanwyck. He received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Drama for his work in the CBS Playhouse program, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night (1967). In 1991, Dobkin appeared in an episode of the television series Night Court as State Supreme Court Justice Welch.
In the Star Trek media franchise Dobkin directed the original series episode “Charlie X”, and later portrayed the traitorous Klingon ambassador Kell on Star Trek: The Next Generation in the fourth-season episode “The Mind’s Eye.”
As a writer, Dobkin created the title character for the 1974 film and the 1977–1978 NBC series The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.
He began directing for television in 1960, and his work in this area included episodes 1, 9, 10, and 13 of The Munsters (1964), 16 episodes of The Waltons (1972–1981), and an episode of Sara (1976).
Dobkin’s notable supporting film roles include Twelve O’Clock High (1949), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Julius Caesar (1953), The Ten Commandments (1956), The Defiant Ones (1958), Johnny Yuma (1966) and Patton (1970). He had a cameo appearance in the 1954 sci-fi thriller Them. In an uncredited performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Dobkin has a memorable line as an intelligence official who remarks on the plight of the hapless protagonist, on the run for murder after being mistaken for a person who doesn’t exist: “It’s so horribly sad. Why is it I feel like laughing?”
He was believed to be narrator at the 1964 New York World’s Fair during the Skydome Spectacular presented after the Carousel of Progress.
From 1971 to 1993, Dobkin served as the narrator of The Hall of Presidents show, returning to re-record the presidential roll call each time a new U.S. President was elected.
On June 24, 1962, Dobkin married actress Joanna Barnes; they had no children, but he had one daughter, Debra Dobkin, by his first wife, Frances Hope Walker. Dobkin married actress Anne Collings in 1970 and had two children: identical twin daughters, Kristy and Kaela.
On October 28, 2002, Dobkin died of heart failure at his home in Los Angeles. He was 83 years old. His ashes were cast into the Pacific Ocean.