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Have Gun, Will Travel (1957-1963)

One of the greatest of the 1950's TV Westerns, Have Gun - Will Travel, premiered in 1957 and was so good it lasted until 1963, a full six seasons. This in itself is not all that impressive - look how long Gunsmoke lasted - but when one considers that this was a half-hour drama, it becomes a rarity indeed. Tightly plotted, each episode was formulaic. Professional gunfighter/mercenary Paladin (Richard Boone) was a West Point graduate who, after the Civil War, settled into San Francisco's Hotel Carlton (a real hotel and still in operation) where he awaited client requests for his professional services. In San Francisco, Paladin looked and acted the dandy, but when in the field on business, dressed in black and on a black horse, he quite looked the gunfighter that he was, even though he would often quote poetry (Boone was a Shakespearian-trained actor). From the IMDb:

There was a lot of thought put into this TV series, which was not your typical Western. For one thing, his name: a Paladin was a lawful knight of Charlemagne's court. This accounts for the chess-piece knight on his calling card, and the lyrics of the theme song which refer to him as "a knight without armor in a savage land." His calling card said "Have Gun, Will Travel" and "Wire Paladin, San Francisco." Paladin, the only name he ever went by, was a true split-personality type. He was equally at home wearing expensive suits and living a rich playboy lifestyle in a San Francisco hotel, or donning his black working clothes, and avenging evil. Some of the clients he stood up for were not in the majority; for example, he once defended the Mennonites, which probably would make him seem to be a non-conformist. Paladin only cared about right and wrong. Even though he charged a fee for his services, he only took cases he believed in, and clients he wanted to help.

Have Gun - Will Travel took on issues that most TV series of that era generally avoided. He fought racism and injustice against the Chinese and the American Indians, for example, exhibited a rigid moral code concerning women, and was often on the side of the underdog even if he had to do so pro bono. And when circumstances dictated, he could be absolutely merciless. As you may have surmised by now, this was also one of my father's favorite TV shows.

YouTube has a large collection of episodes, and they also used to be available on the CBS website. I have embedded a few below for your viewing pleasure. My advice: take the knight.


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Paladin also generated merchandise. Even here in Melbourne, Australia I had a Paladin gun and holster set, complete with wallet and business cards.
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A few months ago I discovered this program on H&I, and I delighted in remembering some old episodes. It's funny though, how years ago this was cutting-edge television, so impactful, but nowadays looks stilted and "corny." We can see that most of the scenes were just sets on a soundstage, whereas years ago, we were unsophisticated and paid no attention to the phony scenery. Still, good acting by Richard Boone. Even earlier in the '50s, he had a series called "Medic" which I would like to see again.
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My favorite Western. We can see the origins of many 60s shows in these scripts. Star Trek, for example. My mother did not like me watching, Never sure why. I assume you will be reviewing Sugarfoot next.
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