Have Gun – Will Travel

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.

Origin of the title: “Have Gun – Will Travel”

The title was a catchphrase used in personal advertisements in American newspapers during the early 190os onward, indicating that the advertiser was ready to do anything.

A form common in theatrical advertising was “Have tux, will travel,” and this was the inspiration for the writer Herb Meadow.

The television show popularized the phrase in the 1960s, and many variations were used as titles for other works such as Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert Heinlein.

Filming locations

Unlike most other western TV serials, entire episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel were filmed outdoors and quite a distance 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 Character called: Paladin

Richard Boone as Paladin.

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 the difficulties brought his way by clients when possible. When forced, he excels in fisticuffs and, under his real name, was a dueling champion of some renown.

His name “Paladin” is derived from that of the foremost knight warriors in Charlemagne’s court. He is a gentleman gunfighter who travels around the Old West working as a mercenary gunfighter for people who hire him to solve their problems for them.

Paladin typically would charge high fees to clients who could afford to hire him, obtensibly $1000 per job, but would provide his services for free to poor people who needed his help.

Like many western TV shows, Have Gun – Will Travel was set during the latter part of the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. Paladin is a former Union cavalry officer, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and a veteran of the American Civil War.

The radio show explicitly states the year in the opening of every episode with the introduction, “San Francisco, 1875. The Carlton Hotel, headquarters of the man called … Paladin!”

Paladin’s permanent place of residence is the Carlton Hotel*, a luxury hotel in San Francisco, where lives the life of a successful businessman and cultured bon vivant, wearing elegant bespoke suits, consuming fine wine, playing the piano, and attending the opera and other cultural events.

*(a fictional hotel ostensibly patterned after the real-world and very famous Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company)

He is an expert chess player, poker player, and swordsman. He is highly educated, able to quote classic literature, philosophy, and case law, and speaks several languages. He was a polyglot, capable of speaking any foreign tongue required by the plot. (notably: French, German, Italian, Chinese and several others)

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.

Due to his luxurious lifestyle, many persons who met him initially mistook him for a dandy from the East Coast of the United States.

But when out on his “business trips”, he dressed entirely in black (hat, shirt and trousers), 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.

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.

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.”

This calling card was the identifying graphic of the Have Gun – Will Travel series.

How Paladin came to be known as “Paladin”

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 debt, he had been forced by his creditor 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, calling him a noble paladin, after the name of a group of well-meaning, but mercenary, medieval knights of Charlemagne’s court.

Subsequently, Smoke reveals during 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, Paladin then finds out that Smoke was truly 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 episode). 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’s Equipment, Skills and Strategy

Paladin’s primary weapon was a custom-made .45 caliber Colt Single Action Army revolver that was perfectly balanced and of excellent craftsmanship.

It had a one-ounce trigger pull and a rifled barrel. 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. 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 advantage over adversaries was not his special equipment, nor his marksmanship.

Paladin’s true advantage was his rich education.

He had an uncanny ability to relate ancient events to 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.

Recurring Characters: Hey Boy and Hey Girl

The major recurring character in the show was the Chinese bellhop at the Carlton Hotel, known as Hey Boy (real name Kim Chang), played by Kam Tong. According to author and historian Martin Grams, Jr., 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 while Kam Tong pursued a career with the “Mr. Garlund” 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 annoyingly 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”).

Complete list of Directors, Writers, and Actors in the entire series.

Other recurring characters

Olan Soule, who had a long career in movies and television, appeared in eleven episodes as Mitchell, or McGinnis, or Matthews (depending on the episode) as the Hotel Carlton’s manager/front desk clerk. He is also called Mr Cartwright, the assistant manager, in the episode, “Hobson’s Choice”. He was spelled a few times by Peter Brocco, another oft-seen character actor who also appeared in “The Cream of the Jest” as the scientist employed to make Paladin’s custom-made cartridges using Paladin’s own formulation for smokeless gunpowder.

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.

Theme songs

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.

Historical setting

Like many TV westerns, Have Gun Will Travel was set during the turbulent  “Reconstruction Period” after the Civil War.

Unfortunately, most TV writers take liberties in regard to historical facts. The historical errors in various episodes are too numerous to list. But here’s a sample:

In the third season episode, “Pancho”, Paladin meets 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.

The Have Gun – Will Travel radio show

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.

“The Origin of Have Gun-Will Travel (Radio, 1958)” by Martin Gram


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.

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.



Keywords: American Westerns, Richard Boone, Have Gun Will Travel, Paladin, Free English Course for speakers of Russian language. Американский вестерн, Ричард Бун, у Gun Will Travel, Паладин, Бесплатный курс английского языка для говорящих на русском языке.



  1. I live in redmond oregon….our place was once called the ….mile away ranch…..it has been said that Richard Boone once lived in this house …..I wonder…..is this true?


    1. He could have. I really don’t have any information of his former places of residence.
      However, he did like to travel a lot. After a visit to the studio back lot by the King of Thailand he could have done some extensive traveling to Asia.
      Check out my Thailand blog at: kevinkordes.wordpress.com


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