Have Gun Will Travel

1957 | United States

Airing between 14 September 1957 to 21 September 1963 (UK broadcast 1959-64), the five thirty minute episode seasons of Have Gun Will Travel were an immensely popular, individualistic take on the traditional western series whose appeal was embraced world-wide, and in the process made an international star of its talented and charismatic lead actor, Richard Boone. 

The series chronicled the exploits of the college educated, West Point trained, black clad lone solider of fortune known simply as 'Paladin', who was based in the Hotel Carlton in the San Francisco of the mid 1800's. Bearing the distinctive image of a chess knight, and the legend: "Have Gun Will Travel. Wire Paladin, San Francisco" on his business card, Paladin hired out both his gun, his sharp intelligence and dryly laconic wit, as detective, bodyguard or whichever of his other considerable professional talents were required by those seeking his services. Interestingly, the series served as the prototype and inspiration for many imitators to follow, which used the basic components of the Paladin character as the template for their own educated, sharply dressed "Old Western" heroes. Two of the most notable being Hugh O'Brien's Wyatt Earp and Gene Barry's Bat Masterson

Although essentially a mercenary, Producer Sam Rolfe (who later went on to develop The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) and star Boone were careful to highlight the fact that Paladin was actually a variation on the classical image of a Knight Errant, a figure with a clearly defined and rigidly adhered to moral code, which was never knowingly violated. In fact Boone, (born on June 18, 1917 in Los Angeles, and was actually a seventh-generation nephew of frontiersman Daniel Boone), exerted more than a considerable amount of creative control over the series. A 1961 issue of TV Guide revealed that not only had the show's star directed a number of episodes, but also exercised both script and casting approval. 

Apart from Paladin himself, the only other continuing character in the series was (initially) Kam Tong as Hey Boy, Paladin's Oriental messenger at the Carlton. Except for during the 1960-1961 season when Tong left the show to take up a more substantial co-starring role in Mr. Garlund/The Garlund Touch. During this period Lisa Lu, as the less than imaginatively christened Hey Girl replaced the character. Tong returned to the series for its final 1963 season following the cancellation of his other show. From 1958-1961 the series was the number three-ranked show on US television screens behind two other legendary Western series', Gunsmoke and Wagon Train. Also, 'Have Gun's' theme song "The Ballad of Paladin", by Johnny Western, Sam Rolfe and Boone himself, and sung on the show's soundtrack by Western, was a hit single twice during the early 60s.

Published on December 20th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.