Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President (Channel 4, UK)

The Office Cat

9 May 2017


For readers of the IAMHIST Blog who have yet to meet the Office Cat (who writes regularly for the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television), you’ll find it a ‘ferocious yet felicitous feline who has assisted in aiding and abetting slovenly television producers and directors since it first saw light in the pages of the History Workshop Journal’. (HJFRT, Vol. 5, No. 2, June 2016: 339). Born in 1976, the Office Cat is no ordinary cat, but a film researcher. It might be fluffy, but unlike human film researchers, for whom it has the greatest respect, never takes ‘no’ for an answer. It specialises in finding film footage that no other film archivist, historian, critic, or other researcher has found before. The Office Cat finds film footage that doesn’t exist or does exist, but not in the ways that film producers or directors would like it to. For example, the Office Cat’s ancestors found footage of the Wright brothers’ first flight, another found footage of the Battle of Jutland. One even unearthed shots of Adolf Hitler marrying Eva Braun in the Führerbunker…

The Office Cat looks forward to shaking its paw with you all, and without further ado:

Meet the Trumps: From Immigrant to President was transmitted by Channel 4 on January 17, 2017. It was made by 72 Films, executively produced by Mark Glover and Mark Rafael and directed by Paul Berczeller and Mark Radice.

I was delighted with this programme, which did its best to usher in the Post-truth era.  Post-truth, as I understand it, means that anything you say, or any item of film you show, is true, if you believe — rightly or wrongly — that it is the case and those who disbelieve you can only be purveying Fake News. So, readers will just have to accept my account of these items in the spirit of Donald Trump, who is a most accomplished practitioner of Post-truth utterances and films.

Donald’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was born in 1869 and emigrated to America in 1885, ten years before the invention of the Cinématographe, so when I tell you there is film of the ship which brought him to New York, with Friedrich himself standing on its deck, and with a cutaway of the Statue of Liberty which was dedicated in 1886, and of the crowds debarking at Ellis Island, which wasn’t built until 1892, that is no more than a simple Post-truth, or as Kellyanne Conway might say, Alternative fact.

When Friedrich went to Washington State in 1891 to seek his fortune, I found film of the train which took him there though the locomotive couldn’t have been filmed at least until 1895.  In Seattle, he gravitated to Washington Street, a rough part of town, where he opened a restaurant. His two Italian chefs came to blows, and I found film of their brawl, though whoever fired a gun at the chandelier and brought it crashing down was not identified.

Friedrich then went to Monte Christo, where he opened another restaurant. There he served men wearing Stetsons, who looked remarkably like those in Seattle for whom he had catered. Friedrich returned to Seattle, to Cherry street where he opened yet arestaurant which prospered., as had his earlier establishments. In 1898 he moved to Bennett, in British Columbia, where he and his partner Ernest Levin opened the Arctic Hotel and Restaurant which also had Rooms for Ladies, in other words catered for Prostitutes. as Friedrich had been doing at least since his time in Monte Christo. By now the Klondike gold rush was well under way but Bennett had been left behind, and this prompted Friedrich to shift his building to a barge to take him across lake Bennett, and then to the Yukon river, which would reach Whitehorse, his destination near the gold fields—where he planned to re-establish his Arctic Hotel. We saw colour film of the hotel on that barge though the first Kinemacolor film was not exhibited until 1908. When the building disintegrated on the way, there was just the briefest of shots of it collapsing, but when the logs from which it was made were bobbing in the river the scene was more lavishly illustrated.

Friedrich eventually found himself in New York, or more precisely Queens, where he built a thriving real estate business. I found film of one of his properties under construction, with a passenger car from the 1930s parked on the street outside, though Friedrich himself had died of influenza in 1918.  Sic transit gloria mundi, as his grandson probably wouldn’t say, since that minatory phrase certainly couldn’t count as extolling ‘America First! America First!’ nor was Friedrich’s death Fake News so far as we know. Bravo to David Glovert, Mark Rafael, Paul Berczeller and Mark Radice for having blazed such a fruitful trail in our brave new Post-truth world!


*The Office Cat will continue to publish in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television.

Jerry Kuehl is an independent television producer whose principal but not exclusive interest is visual history. His first grown-up job in television was as a historical advisor to the 26-part 1964 BBC production, The Great War, he was then an associate producer of The World at War, the 26-part series made by Thames Television in the 1970s which set new standards for accuracy and authenticity in the use of film archives. He was the Head of General Studies at the National Film School from 1979 to 1981. In the 1980s, he was a director of Open Media whose productions included After Dark. In the 1990s, he was a writer and consultant to the 24-part CNN production, The Cold War. In 1991, he wrote and co-produced the 4-part La Grande Aventure de la Presse Filmée (English title: The Great Adventure of Newsreels) for France 3. He is responsible for Kuehl’s Reels, a programme series for YouTube which punctures the pretensions of those who misdescribe films sent to the site. He is also responsible for the Office Cat who skewers irresponsible producers and directors in both the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television and the IAMHIST Blog. He is the recipient of a lifetime achievement award from FOCAL, the Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries.


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One Comment

  1. What a catalog of media mediocrity. Don’t audiences deserve better than this?

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