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
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
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
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
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”.
to Rewind the Fifties Home