Have Gun – Will Travel is an American Western television series that aired on CBS from 1957 through 1963. It was one of the few television shows to birth a successful radio version. The radio series began November 23, 1958.
Have Gun – Will Travel was created by Sam Rolfe and Herb Meadow and produced by Frank Pierson, Don Ingalls, Robert Sparks and Julian Claman. There were 225 episodes of the TV series (quite a few were written by Gene Roddenberry), of which 101 were directed by Andrew McLaglen and 19 were directed by series star Richard Boone.
The title was a catchphrase used in personal advertisements in newspapers like The Times, indicating that the advertiser was ready for anything. It was used in this way from the early 1900s. A form common in theatrical advertising was “Have tux, will travel,” and this was the inspiration for the writer Herb Meadow.
Originally, each show opened with exactly the same 45-second visual. Over a slow four-note-repeat backbeat score, a tight shot of a white chess knight emblem centered in a black background is shown. The view widens to show that the knight is actually an emblem affixed onto the black pistol holster of a gunman, clad entirely in black, who is standing with right side to the camera, and his left hand in the pistol belt. Only his midsection, showing the full gun holster, is seen. Paladin’s right hand then slowly draws the weapon, a long-barreled revolver, from the holster, leisurely cocks it, and then rotates it to point the barrel exactly at the viewer, for 10 seconds. During this time, Paladin delivers a pointed line of dialogue from the coming episode (since the speaker’s face is never seen, this is possible to do with the same visual, in each episode). Then the pistol is again leisurely decocked, and reholstered with an angry brusqueness, which also serves as emphasis for the previous short speech. As soon as the weapon is reholstered, the view again tightens to show only the chess knight, and “RICHARD BOONE in HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL” appears. This leads into the show’s theme music. In the actual episode that followed, the line delivered at gunpoint in the opening sequence is usually not delivered in this way. In Season 1′s “No Visitors,” the line does not occur in the story at all.
The first season’s Christmas episode, “The Hanging Cross,” is unique. Instead of drawing the revolver, Paladin unbuckles the belt and removes the entire rig, holding it out to the camera as he talks. The camera then tilts upward, revealing Richard Boone himself speaking to camera, then hanging the belt, holster, and gun on a wall peg and walking away as the theme picks up and the title graphics appear.
In a later version of the opening sequence, there is a longer range shot, with Paladin in a full-body profile silhouette, and he fast-draws the revolver, dropping into a slight crouch as he turns and points it directly at the camera. After the dubbed-over line, he straightens back up as he shoves the firearm back into his holster. This silhouette visual remained for the rest of the run of the series, but in later episodes, the spoken line would be dropped.
Unlike many other westerns, entire episodes were filmed outdoors and away from the Paramount Studios backlot. Beginning in season four, filming locations were often given in the closing credits. Locations included Bishop and Lone Pine, California, Between Bend and Sisters,Oregon in an area now known as Paladin estates and the Abbott Ranch near Prineville, Oregon.
The show followed the adventures of “Paladin”, a gentleman gunfighter (played by Richard Boone on television, and by John Dehner on radio), who preferred to settle problems without violence; yet, when forced to fight, excelled. Paladin lived in the Hotel Carlton in San Francisco, where he dressed in formal attire, ate gourmet food, and attended the opera. In fact, many who met him initially mistook him for a dandy from the East. But when working, he dressed in black, carried a derringer under his belt, used calling cards with a chess knight emblem, and wore a stereotypical western-style black gunbelt with the same chess knight symbol attached to the holster.
The knight symbol refers to his name – a nickname or working name – and his occupation as a champion-for-hire. The theme song of the series refers to him as “a knight without armor”. In “The Road to Wickenburg”, Paladin draws a parallel between his methods and the chess piece’s movement: “It’s an attack piece, the most versatile on the board. It can move eight different ways, over barriers, and [is] always unexpected.” Paladin’s routine switch from the expensive light-colored suit of his genteel urbane persona in San Francisco to his alter ego, who wears all-black attire for quests into the lawless and barren Western frontier, is also a chess reference.
Paladin was a former Army officer and a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was a polyglot, capable of speaking any foreign tongue required by the plot. He also had a thorough knowledge of ancient history and classical literature, and he exhibited a strong passion for legal principles and the rule of law. Paladin was also a world traveler. His exploits had included an 1857 visit to India, where he had won the respect of the natives as a hunter of man-eating tigers.
This calling card was the identifying graphic of the Have Gun – Will Travel series.
Paladin took on his role by happenstance, as revealed in a flashback during the first episode of the final season (“Genesis” episode 193). To pay off a gambling IOU, he had been forced (by his creditor who obliquely referred to his “distinguished family name”) to hunt down and kill a mysterious gunman called Smoke (played by Boone without his moustache and with grey-white hair). When they meet Smoke gives the Paladin character his nickname, facetiously calling him “a noble paladin” after a well-meaning, but mercenary, medieval knight. This turns out to be doubly ironic, as Smoke had revealed in his death scene that he had not been a criminal gunfighter, but instead had protected the nearby town from the man who had sent Paladin. During a funeral service in the town, it becomes clear that Smoke was indeed the protector of the townspeople. At the end of the episode, Paladin adopts Smoke’s black outfit and confronts the other man (portrayed by William Conrad, who also directed the installment). It is implied that Paladin kills him, thus protecting the town. The episode was unusually allegorical and mythical for a popular Western in 1962.
Paladin charged steep fees for his services – typically a thousand dollars a job. His primary weapon was a custom-made .45 caliber Colt Single Action Army revolverthat was perfectly balanced and of excellent craftsmanship. It had a one-ounce trigger pull and a rifled barrel,with the rifling unaccountably stated in the show as though it were a special feature. The accuracy was given as “one inch to the right at fifty feet”.
The lever-action Marlin rifle strapped to his horse’s saddle was rarely used, but the horsehead insignia embossed on the rifle’s stock suggests this weapon was as meticulously crafted as the six-shooter. The derringer (a double-barrel Remington in most episodes, a single-barrel Colt in some) Paladin hid under his belt had saved his life numerous times. Paladin’s intuitive sense of chesslike strategy – often anticipating moves ahead of his adversary, and backing it up with formidable skills in all areas of personal combat – plus his epicurean tastes and implied lust for women (when relaxing in San Francisco) made him very much a “James Bond” of the old West. Ever a man of refinement, Paladin even carried a few expensive cigars in his boot when out on adventure.
Paladin’s great advantage over adversaries was not his impressive equipment, or his ability as a marksman, superior as this was; Paladin’s edge was his rich education. He had an infallible ability to relate ancient antecedents to his current situations. When the enemy was surrounding him, Paladin could usually make some insightful quip about General Marcellus and the siege of Syracuse or something similar, and then use this insight to his advantage. Burying a rancher killed by Indians, he recited John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” above the grave. In other episodes he quoted lengthy Shakespearean passages from memory. A male role model who memorized poetry was unique in a 1950s television series. Like a chess master, he sought control of the board through superior position, and usually killed only as a last resort.
In the final episode of the radio show, Paladin returns to the East to claim a family inheritance. In the 1972–74 series Hec Ramsey, set at the end of the 19th century, Boone stars as an older former gunfighter turned early forensic criminologist. It is not true Ramsey says, at one point, in his younger days as a gunfighter, he had worked under the name Paladin. The origin of this myth is Boone stating in an interview, “Hec Ramsey is Paladin – only fatter.” Naturally, he merely meant the characters had certain similarities: Ramsey, for his part, was practically buffoonish, imparting a measure of humor to Hec Ramsey missing from Have Gun – Will Travel, compared to the erudite Paladin.
In the 2-part 1991 TV mini-series, The Gambler – The Luck Of The Draw, a poker game is played by the rules of “the late Mr. Paladin” in the hotel Paladin stayed at. Paladin had died.
Hey Boy and Hey Girl
The one other major semiregular character in the show was the Chinese bellhop at the Carlton Hotel, known as Hey Boy, played by Kam Tong. According to author and historian Martin Grams, Jr., the character of Hey Boy was featured in all but the fourth of the show’s six seasons, with the character of Hey Girl, played by Lisa Lu, replacing Hey Boy for season four while Kam Tong pursued a career with another television series.
In the 1957 episode “Hey Boy’s Revenge”, Lu appears playing Hey Boy’s sister, Kim Li. In that episode, the audience also learns that Hey Boy’s name is Kim Chan. (We also learn that Paladin can read Chinese in at least a rudimentary way.) In another episode from the first season, “The Singer”, Hey Boy responds to a stranger who addresses him with “Hey you!” by annoyedly responding that it is “Hey Boy”, and not “Hey you”.
In the season/episode sequencing used by Netflix, Kam Tong (Hey Boy) did actually appear in three episodes of Season 4. Episode 1 (“The Fatalist”), Episode 2 (“Love’s Young Dream”), and Episode 9 (“The Marshal’s Boy”).
Notable guest stars
June Lockhart appeared twice in the role of Dr. Phyllis Thackeray. Her first appearance was in the episode “No Visitors”. In “The Return of Dr. Thackeray”, which aired May 17, 1958, Paladin’s physician friend diagnoses a cook with smallpox. Dr. Thackeray worries that the disease will infect the nearby ranch hands employed by wealthy ranch owner Sam Barton, played by Grant Withers, because Barton refuses to permit his workers to be vaccinated. Singer Johnny Western, who performed the series theme song, appears in this episode as an angry gunslinger.
The program’s opening theme song was composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann. Its closing theme song, “Ballad of Paladin,” was written by Johnny Western, Richard Boone, and Sam Rolfe, and was performed by Western.
Like many TV westerns, the television show was set during a nebulous period after the Civil War. Based on several episodes, Paladin had served in the cavalry during that war, about 12 years previously, and the episode “The Fifth Man” (May 30, 1959) was clearly set during 1875 (the introduction to episodes of the radio version explicitly states the year 1875 as well). The episode “Full Circle” (May 14, 1960) and “Blind Circle” in the fifth season are also set in 1875. (“Full Circle” is set three years after September 1872.) The episode “Lazarus” in the fifth season takes place on March 6 and 7, 1875. On the other hand, the episode of May 16, 1959 (“Comanche”) was set during 1876, as it ends with Paladin surveying the aftermath of Custer’s Last Stand (Battle of the Little Big Horn). In “Out at the Old Ball Bark” in the fourth season, he speaks of having seen a baseball game in 1876. In “The Shooting of Jessie May” in the fourth season, the newspaper is dated October 7, 1876, and an event in the Civil war was “10 or 12 years ago.” “The Cure” in the fourth season is set sometime after the 1876 death of Wild Bill Hickok. The episode of December 6, 1958 (“The Ballad of Oscar Wilde”) takes place during Oscar Wilde’s tour of America in 1882.
On the other hand, in “Cage at McNaab”, which was episode 23 of the sixth season (which originally aired 16 February 1963), Paladin is asked by the wife of a man who is condemned to die to visit him in prison and see if new evidence can be found to clear her husband. Not sure if he wants the job, Paladin agrees to the visit and it leads to quite an unexpected result. Paladin literally finds he now walks in another man’s footsteps. While imprisoned, to prove he could not have spent the last year in solitary confinement, Paladin specifically states that, “Last week the liberal Republicans nominated Greely for President and Brown for Vice President.” This was the 1872 election, indicating this occurred prior to November 1872, probably the summer of 1872. He also says, “Last May 22, the Amnesty Act for Confederate soldiers was signed.” The Amnesty Act occurred in 1872 also. See: Ulysses S. Grant#Reconstruction 2″ and United States presidential election, 1872.
In the third season episode, “Pancho”, Paladin tangles with a teenager named Doroteo Arango, a man who would later be better known as Pancho Villa. The real Pancho Villa was not born until 1878.
Many of the writers who worked on Have Gun – Will Travel went on to gain fame elsewhere. Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek, Bruce Geller created Mission: Impossible, and Harry Julian Fink is one of the writers who created Dirty Harry (the opening title and theme scene of the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force would feature the same Paladin-like sequence of a handgun slowly cocked, and then finally pointed toward the camera, with a line of dialogue). Sam Peckinpah wrote one episode, which aired in 1958. Both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were produced by Desilu Productions and later, Paramount Television, which also now owns the rights to Have Gun – Will Travel through its successor company, CBS Television Distribution.
In other media
The Have Gun – Will Travel radio show broadcast 106 episodes on CBS between November 23, 1958, and November 22, 1960. It was one of the last radio dramas featuring continuing characters and the only significant American radio adaptation of a television series. John Dehner (a regular on the radio series version of Gunsmoke) played Paladin, and Ben Wright usually (but not always) played Hey Boy. Virginia Gregg played the role of Miss Wong, Hey Boy’s girlfriend, before the television series began featuring the character of Hey Girl. Unlike the small-screen version, in this medium, there was usually a tag scene back at the Carlton at both the beginning and the end of the episode. Initially, the episodes were adaptations of the television program as broadcast earlier the same week, but eventually, original stories were produced, including a finale (“Goodbye, Paladin”) in which Paladin left San Francisco, apparently forever, to claim an inheritance back East. The radio version of the show was written by producer/writer Roy Winsor.
Dell Comics’ “Have Gun–Will Travel”
There were three novels based on the television show, all with the same title as the show. The first was a hardback written for children, published by Whitman in 1959 as part of a series of novelizations of television shows. It was written by Barlow Meyers and illustrated by Nichols S. Firfires. The second was a 1960 paperback original, written for adults by Noel Lomis. The last book, called A Man Called Paladin, written by Frank C. Robertson and published in 1963 by Collier-Macmillan in both hardback and paperback, is based on the television original episode, “Genesis,” by Frank Rolfe. This novel is the only source where a name is given to the Paladin character, Clay Alexander, but fans of the series do not consider this name canonical. Dell Comics published a number of comic books with original stories based on the television series.
In 2001, a trade paperback book titled The Have Gun – Will Travel Companion was published, documenting the history of the radio and television series. The 500-page book was authored by Martin Grams, Jr. and Les Rayburn.
In 1997 it was announced that a movie version of the television series would be made. John Travolta was named as a possible star in the Warner Bros. production scripted by Larry Ferguson and to be directed by The Fugitive director Andrew Davis. However, the film was not made.
In 2006, it was confirmed that the reports of a possible Have Gun – Will Travel movie starring Eminem with a possible release date of 2008 was being made, although that was later changed to 2010, but now set for a 2013 release. Paramount Pictures extended an 18-month option on the television series, and planned to transform the character of Paladin into a modern-day bounty hunter. Eminem was also expected to work on the soundtrack.
Home video and DVD
All of the episodes were released on VHS by Columbia House.
CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) has released the first five seasons of Have Gun – Will Travel on DVD in Region 1.
Note: In the second-season DVD, two of the episodes are mislabeled. On disk three, the episode titled “Treasure Trail” is actually “Hunt the Man Down,” and on disk four, “Hunt the Man Down” is “Treasure Trail”; the “Wire Paladin” in each case refers to the other episode.