Timeless TV Classic          


A Knight in the Old West


by Guy Belleranti


Who had the toughness of Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon and the well-dressed culture of Maverick or Bat Masterson? Paladin, that’s who.

Paladin was the main character on the half hour western Have Gun - Will Travel. Played by actor Richard Boone, Paladin was a unique character. When not working to right wrongs he dressed in the finest clothes. However, when he took on a job he became the man in black – black pants, shirt and hat.

Paladin was a wealthy man of the world who lived in a fancy San Francisco hotel (the Hotel Carlton). A West Point grad, he spoke several languages, quoted poets and philosophers, enjoyed opera, fine wine and food, played the piano and enjoyed gambling.

Paladin carried a one of the kind business card. The card read: “Have Gun Will Travel. Wire Paladin. San Francisco.” In the center of the card was the picture of a chess piece – the horse-headed white knight, a paladin - so chosen because a white knight is someone who champions for justice.

Paladin would send or give his card to potential clients, those people in trouble who could afford his fee. The fee, $1,000.00, was a hefty amount in those times, but what people got for their fee was a no-nonsense gun for hire.

Not that Paladin was gun-happy. He had high principles and ethics and preferred to settle problems with words. Sometimes he found his employer was the villain of the piece. Then he would switch to the other side. As for those times when talking failed... Well, let’s just say Paladin had a fast draw, and he shot with dead-eye accuracy. His emergency back-up – a derringer – rested under his gun belt, just in case.

The chess knight insignia on Paladin’s business card also decorated his holster. He said he chose it because “it was the most versatile on the board. It can move eight different directions, over obstacles, and it’s always unexpected”.

Have Gun - Will Travel ran for six years on CBS beginning in September of 1957. All 226 episodes were shot in fitting black and white. Like Gunsmoke, The Rifleman and a few other westerns it was aimed for the adult audience. However, many a boy, myself included, enjoyed it as well.

In its first year the program was number 4 in the ratings. Each of the next three years it was number 3. In fact, it was so successful that in 1958 a radio series also came out, with John Dehner in the starring role.

Richard Boone was the perfect fit for the lead on the television version. His weathered features and deeply-lined face skin reflected a tough no nonsense man.

The only other regular on the series was Hotel Carlton bellhop Hey Boy (played by Kam Tong), and, for a year, Hey Boy’s replacement Hey Girl (played by Lisa Lu).

Respected by people as diverse as royalty to American Indians, Paladin week in and week out always set things right. As the theme song (written by Boone, singer Johnny Western and series creator Sam Rolfe) said, Paladin was a “knight without armor in a savage land”.


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Have Gun - Will Travel TV show's Paladin played by actor Richard Boone

 

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