Monday, September 9, 2019

Have Gun – Will Travel — Television Debut 1957 by Kaye Spencer #classicwesterns #classictelevision #westernfictioneers

Have Gun – Will Travel – September 14, 1957

During my growing-up years, I watched reruns or as-they-aired episodes of what are now classic television westerns: Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Lone Ranger, The Big Valley, High Chaparral, Rawhide, Laredo, The Virginian, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, Maverick, Wagon Trail, Tales of Wells Fargo, Branded, Wyatt Earp, Johnny Yuma, Laramie, Broken Arrow, Guns of Will Sonnet, Zorro, Lancer, Cimarron Strip,Yancy Derringer... The list goes on and, no doubt, you have your favorites, too.

It just so happens that one of my favorite classic western television shows is celebrating its premiere date this week.
The adventures of a gentlemanly gunfighter for hire.

Sixty two years ago, the television-watching population enjoyed the premiere of the thirty-minute, Saturday night western show Have Gun - Will Travel starring Richard Boone as the somewhat mysterious soldier of fortune, but always a gentleman, Paladin. The premise of the show was Paladin worked as a gunfighter-for-hire who traveled the west c. 1875 offering his special kind of problem-solving skills. He was a high-dollar gunman—$1000 per job wasn’t unusual—but he also provided his services for free to those with a worthy cause who couldn’t afford him otherwise. However, violence by gun-play wasn’t his only weapon. He was a pugilist and dueling champion of some renown in his former life.

General Trivia

  • The word ‘paladin’ derives from the knights in Charlemagne’s Court, who were champions of worthy causes.
  • Paladin was a Union cavalry officer and graduate of West Point.
  • His residence is the luxury Carlton Hotel in San Francisco.
  • When not riding about the countryside doing good deeds—dressed as the original “Man in Black”—he lives the life of a cultured businessman who wears custom-made suits, consumes fine wine, plays the piano, and attends the opera. He also has a weakness for women.
  • With just a sip, he can determine a particular bourbon’s distillery.
  • Paladin is an expert chess and poker player, an accomplished swordsman, and possesses skill in Chinese martial arts having studied under a Kung Fu master.
  • His level of education is such that he quotes classical literature, philosophy, case law, and he speaks several languages.
  • Paladin’s weapons: 1) custom-made, single action .45 Colt (Army cavalry model) that he carries in a black leather holster adorned with a platinum chess knight symbol, 2) lever action Marlin rifle, and 3) concealed derringer.
  • He has a signature calling card/business card. In Paladin’s words:  “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.”

  • The show’s four note opening motif was done purposely to create a musical memory akin to other popular television shows at the time: Highway Patrol, Dragnet, Twilight Zone, and Perry Mason.

  • The show closes with the song, “The Ballad of Paladin”, which was written by Johnny Western, Richard Boone, and Sam Rolfe. Johnny Western sings the ballad.

  • The show ran from 9/14/1957 to 4/20/1963 with 225 episodes.
  • A radio version began in 1958 with actor John Dehner portraying Paladin.

From 1974 to 1991, a trademark lawsuit against the concept of the show moved in and out of court culminating with a substantial settlement. You can read the details here: HGWT Website

Hollywood Trivia

Notable Episode Writers:

  • Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek)
  • Bruce Geller (Mission Impossible)
  • Harry Julian Fink (Dirty Harry)
  • Sam Peckinpah (directed a plethora of western movies)
Unusual for the era, many episodes were filmed outdoors and not on the Old West film lots – Bishop and Lone Pine, California – Paladin Estates between Bend and Sisters, Oregon – the Abbott Ranch near Prineville, Oregon.

Notable Guest Stars:

  • Angie Dickinson
  • Ben Johnson
  • Buddy Ebsen
  • Charles Bronson
  • Dan Blocker
  • DeForest Kelley
  • Denver Pyle
  • Dyan Cannon
  • George Kennedy
  • Jack Elam
  • Jack Lord
  • James Coburn
  • Johnny Crawford
  • June Lockhart
  • Ken Curtis
  • Lee Van Cleef
  • Lon Chaney, Jr.
  • Pernell Roberts
  • Robert Blake
  • Suzanne Pleshette
  • Vincent Price
  • Werner Klemperer

Who was Paladin?

Paladin was a West Point graduate, a Civil War cavalry officer, and his base of operations was the Hotel Carlton in San Francisco, California. While it's been too many years since I've watched these episodes, I've read that in the episode entitled "Fandango", Paladin encounters a sheriff who knew him from their Civil War days. The sheriff calls Paladin 'Bobby' and goes on to say, "It's been a long time since Bull Run." Maybe Paladin's real first name was Robert.

Generally, though, the consensus is his real name is never revealed. However, Paladin’s backstory is shown in flashback sequence in the first episode of the last (6th) season, “Genesis”, which aired September 15, 1962. This episode explains how Paladin came by his pseudonym and his subsequent mission to champion the causes of the less fortunate. It isn't his shining moment. Through his actions, another man dies, and Paladin takes on the dead man's identity and mission as a type of penitence to atone for his own actions.

 Read the episode details at the HGWT Website link above.

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer
Writing through history one romance upon a time

Stay in contact with Kay via these venues:

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Tagline - IMDb website:

Have Gun, Will Travel website:

Have Gun, Will Travel Wikipedia:

Image: Richard Boone - By CBS Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image: Paladin - By Source, Fair use,

Image: Calling Card - By CBS Publicity;,

Image: John Dehner -


  1. What a wonderful blog, Kaye. I loved the show and watched it every week. I didn't know all this trivia, though, and conclude that he truly was the 007 of the West....James Bond ain't the only one with class.

    1. Paladin was definitely the 007 of the Old West. Love him and the show.

  2. I own most of the series on DVD and enjoy re-watching when the mood hits.
    I've used some episodes in my writing/acting classes as great examples of what can be accomplished when writing/performing is done well.
    All in all a wonderful show and you did it great justice. Doris

    1. The writing skill that is required of packing in an entire story in a 30-minute episode including time out for commercials is impressive, and Have Gun Will Travel writers did an amazing job.

  3. Oh, how I loved that show! I think I loved the song more than anything. LOL I always think of those young boys in Stand By Me walking along together singing it. It does make one wonder how Paladin acquired all his knowledge and skills in one lifetime, doesn't it? LOL It was a great show, and Richard Boone did a wonderful job with the character. I wonder who Johnny Western really was? LOL

    1. Here is the ever-accurate-in-*facts* - ahem - Wikipedia article about Johnny Western. He apparently rewrote the Bonanza lyrics with Johnny Cash and he wrote the theme to The Rebel... among other accomplishments.

  4. Johnny Western appeared as a bit cast member in a few episodes.

    Have Gun Will Travel is my favorite of all the TV westerns. I recall that when they were casting the lead, the man who made the choice overheard Boone in a conversation. Based on the voice, before he ever saw Boone's face, he said, "That's our man." paraphrasing.

    1. That is a fabulous anecdote about how Richard Boone was hired as Paladin. He did have a distinctive voice.

  5. Great review. I loved the series as a teenager. The names of the show's writers reads like an honor roll.

  6. Has anyone ever considered the Bond gun barrel opening sequence as an evolution of the opening of HGWT.