On September 14th, 1957, a new western debuted on the CBS television
network. Richard Boone played the man called "Paladin" in Have Gun -- Will Travel. The
half-hour show aired Saturday, at 9:30 p.m., just before another popular
Gunsmoke, and ran for six successful seasons. (It opened as the
#4 rated show for the year, then followed up with three years ranked #3.)
The series always featured a serious and intelligent approach .
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 attire, 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
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 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 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.
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.
Like many TV westerns, the television show was set during a nebulous
period after the
War. Based on several episodes, Paladin had served in the cavalry
during that war, about 12 years previously, and the episode "The Fifth
Man" (5-30-1959) was clearly set during 1875. On the other hand, the
episode of 5-16-1959 ("Commanche") was set during 1876, as it ends with
Paladin surveying the aftermath of Custer's Last Stand (Battle of the
Little Big Horn), and the episode of 12-6-58 ("The Ballad of Oscar
Wilde") takes place during Oscar Wilde's tour of America in 1882.
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, 1960. 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
Trek, Bruce Geller created
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
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
Gun Will Travel DVDs
All of the episodes were released on VHS by Columbia House. As of
October 2008, 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 Have Gun — Will Travel Companion by Martin Grams, Jr. and Les
Rayburn. OTR Publishing, 2001.
Lists of miscellaneous information should be avoided. Please relocate
any relevant information into appropriate sections or articles. (July
* 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
* "The Ballad of Palindrome" is a 1998 spoof performed by the theme
song's original singer, Johnny Western. "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 Have Tux, Will Travel. is said to
be the source of the show's title.
* In an episode of The Richard Boone Show (1963) Richard Boone played a
* 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
* 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"