In the late 1950s, nothing was more popular on TV than cowboys, and few gunslingers were more popular than Paladin. The dashing, daring character of Have Gun – Will Travel had the refined taste of James Bond and the wardrobe of Johnny Cash. In the first four of its six seasons, from 1957–61, the Western ranked in the top four of all television shows. It was still a hit those last couple years, too.
Based out of the luxurious Hotel Carlton in San Francisco, Paladin, played by Richard Boone, offered his services for steep fees, typically $1,000. He carried business cards embossed with his chess knight logo and his promise, “Have Gun – Will Travel.” Paladin was everything from guardian, tutor, rescuer, bounty hunter, treasure hunter, detective… whatever the client needed.
With his flashy suits and bespoke holster, Paladin was a far cry from rugged heroes like Rowdy Yates or Matt Dillon. Six decades later, he’s just as cool.
Let’s take a closer look at Have Gun – Will Travel.
1. The Man in Black actually wore a lot of a blue.
In color photographs, as seen in promotional images for the show and on the covers of tie-in comics published by Dell, Paladin sports a “midnight blue” shirt over matching pants. Of course, on black and white television, it appeared inky black. Alas, the lack of color television meant we could not see Richard Boone’s blue eyes, either.
2. Paladin’s real name was Clay Alexander — perhaps.
On the television show, Paladin’s true name is never given. Though it remains a point of debate amongst fans, one of the tie-in books, which expands on the origin story shown in the episode “Genesis,” his real name is given as Clay Alexander. If you want to take that as canon, feel free.
3. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wrote a bunch of episodes.
The visionary Star Trek creator honed his skill on Have Gun – Will Travel, writing a couple dozen scripts for the series. His fourth episode for the Western, “Helen of Abajinian,” earned him the award for Best Original Script from the Writer’s Guild of America. That episode just so happens to be the first to feature the song “Ballad of Paladin,” but more on that later….
4. Paladin once met Spock, too.
Speaking of Star Trek, Spock himself met Paladin, at least in the pages of a novel. The 1985 sci-fi book Ishmael, written by Barbara Hambly, sees the Vulcan traveling back in time to the Western United States of the 19th century. In San Francisco, Spock plays cards with Paladin. There are also references to Little Joe and Hoss from Bonanza.
5. Paladin pops into a familiar saloon from Gunsmoke.
In the episode “The Colonel and the Lady,” Paladin travels to Nevada, where he enters a bar that just might seem familiar to eagle-eyed Western fans. It’s the set primarily used as the Long Branch Saloon on Gunsmoke. Note the shape of the swinging doors, and the sconces to their sides. The same set was also used in a Perry Mason episode, “The Case of the Bashful Burro.”
6. Paladin is briefly mentioned in an episode of ‘Maverick.’
While on the subject of Gunsmoke, we are now reminded of a particular Maverick episode that poked a whole lot of fun at the long-running favorite. “Gun-Shy” was a spoof of Gunsmoke, right down to the parodies of the characters, including “Marshal Mort Dooley.” At one point, Deputy Clyde Diefendorfer says to the Doc that a gunfighter “came into town last week handing out business cards.” Who else but Paladin?
7. A radio show was adapted from the TV show, not the other way around.
Gunsmoke, like several other prominent Westerns, began life as a radio program. Have Gun – Will Travel was the rare case of the opposite. The popularity of the TV series led to a radio spin-off, one of the last major radio dramas produced for the medium. John Dehner — a character actor one can spot in just about every Western, if not television show, of the 1950s and 1960s — played Paladin. You might remember him as the main character in the Twilight Zone episode “The Jungle.”
8. Richard Boone directed many episodes.
The star helmed 28 episodes of Have Gun – Will Travel. Oddly, he rarely sat in the director’s chair beyond that, except for a handful of episodes of his The Richard Boone Show in 1963–64.
9. Bernand Hermann recycled his own music for the opening theme.
“The Ballad of Paladin” remains the most memorable song from the series, though it was the end theme. Johnny Western sang and twanged his way through that ditty (“A knight without armor in a savage land…”). The opening theme, a blast of four orchestral notes, was composed by screen legend Bernard Hermann. Though he phoned it in a bit — the music was lifted off his score from 1951 film On Dangerous Ground.
10. There was almost a reboot starring Eminem.
“The Ballad of Paladin” almost went hip hop. In 2006, it was widely reported that the rapper was set to star in a Have Gun – Will Travel remake. The contemporary update would have had Eminem playing a bounty hunter in Detroit. Obviously, that never came to fruition. Likewise, a cinematic reboot starring John Travolta was reported in 1997, but never got off the ground.