Have Gun — Will Travel is an American Western television series that aired on CBS from 1957 through 1963. It was rated either number three or number four in the Nielsen ratings during each year of its first four seasons. It was one of the few television shows to spawn a successful radio version. The radio series debuted 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.
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 Carlton Hotel in San Francisco
, where he dressed in formal wear, ate gourmet food, and attended the opera. In fact, many who met him initially mistook him for a dandy from the East. When working, he dressed in black, used calling cards, wore a holster that carried characteristic chess knight
emblems, and carried a derringer
under his belt.
The knight symbol is in reference to his name — possibly a nickname or working name — and his occupation as a champion-for-hire (see paladin). The theme song of the series refers to him as "a knight without armor." In addition, Paladin drew a parallel between his methods and the chess piece's movement: "It's a chess piece, the most versatile on the board. It can move in eight different directions, over obstacles, and it's always unexpected."
Paladin was a former Army officer and a graduate of 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 quite a world traveler. His exploits included an 1857 visit to India, where he had won the respect of the natives as a hunter of man-eating tigers.
Paladin — whose real name was never revealed — took on his role by happenstance, a backplot revealed in the first episode of the final season. To pay off a gambling IOU, he was forced to hunt down and kill a mysterious gunman named Smoke, who was played by Boone himself without his mustache and with grey-white hair. Smoke gave the Paladin character his nickname, facetiously calling him "a noble paladin." The question turned out to be doubly ironic, as Smoke hinted in his death scene that he was not a criminal gunfighter, but a protector of the helpless and unenfranchised. Paladin adopted Smoke's black costume and it was implied that he killed the man who had hired him. 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 revolver that was perfectly balanced and of excellent craftsmanship. It had a one-ounce trigger pull.
The lever-action Winchester rifle strapped to his horse's saddle was rarely used, but the horsehead insignia embossed on that rifle's stock suggests that this weapon was as meticulously crafted as the six-shooter. The derringer that Paladin hid under his belt had saved his life numerous times. Ever a man of refinement, Paladin even carried a few expensive cigars in his boot when out on adventure.
In the final episode of the radio show, Paladin returns to the East to claim a family inheritance. In the 1972-1974 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 that Ramsey at one point says in his younger days as a gunfighter he had worked under the name Paladin. The origin of this myth is that Boone stated in an interview that "Hec Ramsey is Paladin — only fatter." Naturally, he merely meant that the characters had certain similarities: Ramsey was practically buffoonish compared to the erudite Paladin.
Paladin's great advantage over his adversaries was not his impressive equipment, or even 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. 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.
The one other major semi-regular character in the show was the Chinese bellhop
at the Carlton Hotel, known as Hey Boy. Hey Boy was 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 Chang. 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."
Hey Girl was seen in 1960-1961 when actress Lisa Lu
temporarily replaced actor Kam Tong who had moved to another series.
The television show was nominated for three Emmy Awards
. These were for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series for Richard Boone (1959); Best Western Series (1959); and Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead or Support), for Richard Boone (1960).
The Have Gun — Will Travel
radio show broadcast 106 episodes on CBS between November 23
, 1958, and November 22
. It was one of the last radio dramas featuring continuing characters. 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 girl friend, 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.
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, written by Frank 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.
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
. 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
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, there were reports of a possible Have Gun — Will Travel movie starring Eminem that could be released in 2008, although the possible release date was later changed to 2010 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
. As of June 2007, only the first three seasons were available on DVD. 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.
The Real Paladin?
In April 1974, a Portuguese cowboy from Rhode Island
named Victor DeCosta won a federal court judgment in his second suit against CBS for trademark infringement, a decision supporting his claim that he had created both the Paladin character and some concepts seen in the series.
This was the second of three attempts DeCosta made in court against CBS. The first was a suit against the network for stealing his idea, citing his sideshow performances was the inspiration. After the first case, he trademarked the business card and then sued CBS for trademark infringement. His third case in the 1980s was another suit claiming the network stole all of his ideas. He won all three cases, but all three were overturned by a court of appeals. DeCosta never received a settlement.
- The program's closing theme song, "Ballad of Paladin", was written by Johnny Western, Richard Boone, and Sam Rolfe, and was performed by Western. The program's opening theme song was composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann.
- "The Ballad of Palindrome" is a 1998 spoof performed by the theme song's original singer, Johnny Western Riders in the Sky Official Website "There are campfire legends that the plainsmen spin, of a man who was nothing like Paladin. Couldn't ride, couldn't shoot, but he won his fame, because everything he said, said backward, was the same."
- In a scene in Stand By Me, the main characters sing the show's closing theme song.
- Have Gun — Will Travel is one of many westerns mentioned in the Olympics' 1958 hit song "Western Movies".
- Robert A. Heinlein's 1958 novel, Have Space Suit-Will Travel title is taken from the show
- The title of Bob Hope's 1954 book is Have Tux, Will Travel.
- In an episode of The Richard Boone Show (1963) Richard Boone played a modern-type Paladin.
- A feature of Frank Zappa's 1970 tour's performances was the "Paladin Routine", a brief improvised comedy sketch based on the Have Gun — Will Travel characters, culminating in a vocalization of the music from the series' opening credit sequence. One such performance is documented on the bootleg album Freaks & Motherfu*#@%! (later released as part of Beat The Boots).
- The webcomic series, High Moon was influenced by the radio serial, Have Gun — Will Travel
- In the game Kane & Lynch: Dead Men by Eidos and IO Interactive, three achievements for the Xbox 360 and PC version are named after the show.
- A Bradenton, Florida Indie-folk band is called "Have Gun, Will Travel".
- The closing song on The Audition's second album, Champion, is entitled "Have Gun, Will Travel".
- The title of the show appears in Tim O'Brien's short story "The Things They Carried."
- The hit song by At the Drive-In "Quarantine" (off of their breakthrough album Relationship of Command) includes the refrain, "Have trigger — will travel"