Noble Facts About The Classic Western Show Have Gun-Will Travel

Have Gun-Will Travel is an American Western television series that was produced and broadcast on CBS between 1957 and 1963. Of the four seasons that it ran, the show was either rated number three or four in the Nielsen ratings, and it was one of the few shows to ever lead to the creation of a successful radio show. Best remembered for its opening theme, progressive take on the Western genre, and successful time on-air, the show is still considered to be one of the best Western series to date. See why it was loved by so many and some behind-the-scenes acts that you may not know!

Behind The Name “Paladin”

Richard Boone as Paladin
CBS
CBS

Have Gun-Will Travel follows the adventures of a man that calls himself “Paladin,” however, there is a reasoning behind this nickname. The word “Paladin” comes from the early European “Paladino,” or “palatine,” which refers to a knight or champion that fights for a noble cause.

It can also mean a military leader that is greatly trusted by their King. This fits the character in the series perfectly, as he works as a mercenary for people who hire him and also has a military background.

An Issue With Clothing Color

Colored picture of Richard Boone
CBS
CBS

In the earlier episodes of the series, Paladin’s riding clothes were a midnight blue, a color that complimented Richard Boone’s blue eyes. However, since the show was shot in black and white, the audiences couldn’t tell that his clothes were blues, as they looked black.

So, there was a shirt redesign from a buttoned front to a v-neck, and the clothes were changed to be all black. From then on, whenever Paladin’s garments were mentioned, he was always referred to as “the man in black,” whether he was wearing blue or black.

Paladin’s Name Was Possibly Alexander Clay

Picture of Paladin
CBS
CBS

Although both in the television and radio show, Paladin’s true name is never revealed, it was mentioned in a book. Although many fans still debate whether this is canon, in one of the tie-in books that expand on the origin story in the episode “Genesis,” his real name is mentioned to be Alexander Clay.

This book is titled A Man Called Paladin and was written by Frank C. Robertson and published in 1963 by Collier-Macmillan in both hard and paperback.

Films That Were Never Made

Picture of Eminem
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Back in 1997, it was announced that a movie version of the television series was going to be made with John Travolta being rumored as the star. The film was planned to be produced by Warner Bros and scripted by Larry Ferguson and directed by The Fugitive Director Andrew Davis. However, the film was never made.

Then, in 2006, it was announced that rapper Eminem would star in a film version, transforming the character of Paladin into a modern-day bounty hunter. Eminem was also expected to work on the soundtrack, yet another project that fell through.

The Show Launched Many Of The Writers’ Careers

Star Trek characters
CBS via Getty Images
CBS via Getty Images

Numerous of the writers that worked on Have Gun-Will Travel did quite well for themselves after working on the show. Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek, Bruce Geller started Mission: Impossible, and Samuel A. Peeples created The Tall Man, and Lancer, with Harold Jack Bloom creating Boone’s later series Heck Ramsey and the 1970s medical series Emergency!

Both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were produced by Desilu Productions and later Paramount Television, which now owns the rights to Have Gun-Will Travel through the successor company, CBS Television.

The Series Was Nominated For… And Won Awards

Boone in costume
Richard Boone Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Richard Boone Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In the years that the show was on-air, the series was nominated for three Emmy Awards. These were for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series for Richard Boone (1959), Best Western (1959), and Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Series for Richard Boone (1960).

However, in 1957, writer Gene Roddenberry received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Script for his work on the iconic episode “Helen of Abajinan.”

They Didn’t Just Film In A Studio

Actors in the show
CBS
CBS

Unlike many other westerns at the time, entire episodes of the series were shot outside and not on the Old West street set below Melrose Avenue, the location of Filmaster television production company. Instead, they traveled around the country to get the right shots. Beginning in season four, the filming locations of the episodes were given in the closing credits.

Some of these locations included Bishop and Lone Pine in California, as well as area now referred to as Paladin Estates between Bend and Sisters, Oregon. Other sites in Oregon, such as Abbot Ranch, were also used.

The Only Other Regular Character

Picture of Hey Boy
CBS
CBS

Aside from Richard Boone as Paladin, the only other character to regularly appear on Have Gun-Will Travel is Hey Boy, the Chinese bellhop at the Carlton Hotel, played by Kam Tong.

However, in the fourth season, Hey Boy was replaced by Lisa Lu as Hey Girl, while Kam Tong went on to pursue a more prominent role in another TV series titled “Mr. Garlund,” or “The Garlund Touch.” Unfortunately for Tong, the show ended up being a complete flop.

Spicing Up The Costume

Silver knight piece
CBS
CBS

Off the job, Paladin dresses in the nicest clothes around, while on the trail, he wears his classic all-black gear. When performing his screen test, the “black knight” look worked so well that the producers didn’t want to mess with it, except for two small silver adornments.

In the first season, producer Julian Claman added silver conches to the hat, and creator herb Meadow added a silver piece to his holster in the shape of a chess knight. He claims to have added with, not only because Paladin was a western-style knight, but because the knight is one of the most unpredictable pieces on a chessboard.

Paladin May Have Been Inspired By A Real Person

Title card for show
CBS
CBS

One theory about the show is that Paladin and many of his props, such as his business card and clothes, were inspired by a real rodeo performer named Victor DeCosta. Decades before the show, he went under the nickname “Paladin” and was known to distribute his own business cards with the same title phrase and all-black outfit.

After the release of the show, DeCosta filed a lawsuit against CBS that took years to be resolved. It was eventually concluded that the producers of the show did get a lot of their ideas from DeCosta.

There Were High Tensions On Set

Boone as Paladin
CBS
CBS

At one point, Sam Rolfe, one of the creators of the show, got into a physical altercation with Boone, resulting int he actor walking out of the set. However, Boone was no stranger to impulsive actions, as he had been kicked out of Stanford, burned his landlady’s furniture for heat, and attempted to become a Hemingway-esque author.

For the next six years, there was tension between Boone and Rolfe, yet the two still managed to be productive despite their differences.

The Man That Replaced Rolfe Was Faithful To His vision

Picture of Pierson
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

In 1959, Frank R. Pierson was hired as a story editor and replaced Rolfe in season four. According to Pierson, he had a good idea about where Rolfe was going with the show and made a point to stick to his vision.

This led him to him including Paladin quoting Aristotle and discussing things such as political philosophy. In his first episode as a producer, Pierson created a storyline about a Russian Jewish fatalist that hires Paladin for protection. Pierson nailed Rolfe’s desire to have the show about a racial subculture in the West and a discussion of non-violence.

The Show Wasn’t Always Going To Be A Western

Business card
CBS
CBS

When coming up with a premise for the show, creator Sam Rolfe and Herb Meadow first discussed the idea of having their protagonist as a detective in New York City that would buy all of the papers each morning and looking through the classifieds for people in need of help. He would then send them his calling card which read: “Have gun, will travel.”

Although CBS programmer Hunt Stromberg Jr. was interested, he was looking for a program that would align with Gunsmoke. So, the two changed the show to take place in 1870s San Francisco, and Have Gun-Will Travel was born.

Richard Boone Wasn’t The First Choice To Play Paladin

Picture of Randolph Scott
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Initially, CBS had intentions of having the 50s Western star Randolph Scott playing the lead role of Paladin. However, when approached about the show, he declined, sensing that his personality wasn’t fit to play the Renaissance man that Meadow and Rolfe had in mind.

On top of that, Scott was already in the process of shooting a series of westerns with director Budd Boetticher and writer Burt Kennedy. Their next choice was Richard Boone, who had been working a series of odd jobs after returning home from World War II.

A British Show Was Heavily Influenced By Have Gun-Will Travel

Cast of Boon
ITV
ITV

The British drama series Boon was strongly influenced by Have Gun-Will Travel, which ran from 1986 to 1992, and a one-off special in 1995. The series followed an ex-fireman that was forced to leave the service, becoming a “modern-day hero.”

On Have Gun-Will Travel’s influence, the show’s co-creator Jim Hill commented, “Boon had been derived from an American TV series from the 1950s that Bill Stair and I both watched and liked.” Regarding the title, Hill noted that Richard Boone played Paladin, so they dropped the “E” and had Boon, “a modern-day troubleshooter on a motorbike instead of a steed.”

Richard Boone Directed A Number Of Episodes

Portrait of Richard Boone
Richard C. Miller/Getty Images
Richard C. Miller/Getty Images

Have Gun-Will Travel was created by Sam Rolfe and Herb Meadow, as well as was produced by Don Ingalls, Frank Pierson, Robert Sparks, and Julian Claman. Although there was no official Head Writer position, Gene Roddenberry considered himself it, writing 24 of the 225 episodes.

Other writers that made major contributions included Bruce Geller, Julian Fink, Irving Wallace, and Don Brinkley. While Andre V. McLagen directed an impressive 101 episodes, Boone eventually got in on the action and directed 28 of the episodes himself.

Star Trek’s Spock And Paladin Meet In A Novel

Cover of the book
Pocket Books
Pocket Books

Although Spock and Paladin never encounter each other on screen, the two do meet with the pages of a book. In 1985, author Barbara Hambly published her Star Trek sci-fi novel titled Ishmael. In the book, the Vulcan travels back in time to the Western United States during the 18th century.

There, in San Francisco, Spock plays cards with no other than Paladin. There’s also a reference to Little Joe and Hoss from Bonanza. This is ironic considering that Have Gun-Will Travel writer Gene Roddenberry also created Star Trek.

Paladin Enters The Saloon From Gunsmoke

Entering the saloon
CBS
CBS

In the episode “The Colonel and the Lady,” Paladin travels to Nevada where he enters a saloon that should look familiar to die-hard Western fans. The bar he walks into is used as the set for the Long Branch Saloon on the iconic Western series Gunsmoke.

What makes the saloon noticeable is the shape of the swinging doors as well as the sconces on the sides. This same saloon was also used in the Perry Mason episode, “The Case of the Bashful Burro.”

Unusually, A Radio Show Was Adapted From The TV Show

Dehner on the radio
TheWallBreakers2017/Reddit
TheWallBreakers2017/Reddit

In the past, prominent Westerns such as Gunsmoke, along with several others, got their start on the radio. However, this isn’t the case for Have Gun-Will Travel, but the other way around. The TV series led to the development of a radio spin-off, one of the last radio genres in the medium.

John Dehner, who was an icon in Western television throughout the 1950s and 60s, played Paladin. He is also recognizable as the main character in The Twilight one episode, “The Jungle.” The show was 106 episodes long and ran from 1958 until 1960.

Bernard Hermann Recycled His Own Music For The Opening Theme

Boone as Paladin
CBS
CBS

Considered to be one of the most iconic opening themes in the Western genre to date, “The Ballad of Paladin” was composed by Bernand Hermann. The opening song is remembered for its blast of four musical notes, that marked the beginning of each episode.

Yet, it isn’t all that original as he took it from the score that he used on the 1951 film On Dangerous Ground. Another memorable song in the series was the closing song with Johnny Western singing the classic lyrics “A knight without armor in a savage land…”

The Lone Ranger Started As A Radio Series

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Central Press/Getty Images
Central Press/Getty Images

This photo is from July 21, 1958. Actor Clayton Moore spent four weeks in London on tour, and he is pictured posing as the Lone Ranger without his guns, which were held by British customs and Excise at London Airport. The Lone Ranger was characterized by his mask and his penchant for fighting outlaws in the American Old West.

The Lone Ranger first came on the scene in 1933 in a radio show. It was so popular, it was turned into a book series by Fran Striker and later a popular TV show as well as comic books and several films.

Loyal Listeners Could Get A Lone Ranger Atom Bomb Ring

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Many radio shows in the 1930s would reward its loyal listeners with special prizes. They were usually children’s toys, such as deputy badges. But there was one special item that was particularly odd now that we look back at it.

Several years after World War II started, children of all ages clamored to get their hands on a “Lone Ranger Atom Bomb Ring.” You could remove the red base, which was a secret compartment, and the company assured parents: “The atomic materials inside the ring are harmless.”

Tonto Called The Lone Ranger Kemo Sabe, Which Means ‘Trusted Scout’ Or ‘Faithful Friend’

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Bettmann, contributor, Getty Images
Bettmann, contributor, Getty Images

The origin of the Lone Ranger involves an ambush in which only one of six Texas Rangers survives. Then a Native American named Tonto happens upon the scene. He nurses one of them, John Reid, back to health. Tonto later gives John the name Kemo Sabe, which translates to “trusty scout” or “faithful friend.”

John decides to hunt down Bartholomew “Butch” Cavendish, who is in charge of the outlaws that killed his fellow Texas Rangers, including his brother. John wears a domino mask of cloth from his dead brother’s vest to hide his identity.

There Were Strict Guidelines When It Came To The Lone Ranger’s Behavior

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Bettman, contributor, Getty Images
Bettman, contributor, Getty Images

When creating the Lone Ranger character, writer Fran Striker and lawyer and producer George W. Trendle came up with several guidelines to describe his personality and his behavior. For example, the Lone Ranger always wore a mask and was never supposed to be seen without his mask.

Also, he used perfect grammar, avoided slang and colloquialisms, and almost never referred to himself as the Lone Ranger. Instead, he would present a silver bullet to anyone questioning his identity.

The Lone Ranger Rarely Battled Non-Americans

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Bettmann, contributor, Getty Images
Bettmann, contributor, Getty Images

Most of the time, the Lone Ranger battled other Americans instead of minorities. This was to avoid conflict. However, when the Lone Ranger had adversaries that were foreign in nature, their nation of origin was usually not revealed. On one occasion, he helped a Mexican against French troops of Emperor Maximilian in several radio episodes.

Generally, unsympathetic characters were referred to by a nickname or a surname only. The writers tried to avoid using two names if possible.

The Lone Ranger Never Drank Or Smoked

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

The writers portrayed the Lone Ranger as a very wholesome character. He did not smoke or drink liquor. Whenever he appeared in saloon scenes it was often a cafe with waiters and food instead of bartenders and alcohol. In the 1980s, he would have been referred to as “straight edge” because he refrained from alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

As for his criminal adversaries, these characters were never portrayed as being wealthy or glamorous. The writers didn’t want listeners, viewers, or readers to admire these types of people.

Tonto Means ‘Wild One’ But Something Completely Different In Spanish

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Tonto first appeared in the 11th episode of the radio series. He was written into the show so the Lone Ranger had someone to talk to. WXYZ radio actor, producer, and director James Jewell came up with the name as well as the endearment Kemo Sabe, which was the name of his father-in-law’s summer camp.

The name Tonto is Native American for “wild one.” Tonto’s English was not very good because it was his second language. In Spanish, Tonto means “stupid,” so the name was changed to Toro in Spanish-speaking regions.

The Lone Ranger Acquired Silver After Saving Its Life

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

The Lone Ranger rode a mare named Dusty before meeting Silver. He saved Silver’s life from an angry buffalo, and the horse decided to give up its wild life in return for his favor. Tonto rode a horse named White Feller as well as one named Scout. One popular catchphrase was “Git-um up, Scout!”

Tonto also had an eagle named Taka in animated features that aired from 1966 to 1968. Several episodes included the Lone Ranger saying, “Fly, Taka! On, Scout!” before ending with, “Hi-yo, Silver! Away!”

Who Exactly Is The Lone Ranger Based On? Zorro? Robin Hood?

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

There are many possible inspirations behind the Lone Ranger. Many believe the character was based on Texas Ranger Captain John R. Hughes. He may also be based on the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River, Bass Reeves. According to the book “Black Gun, Silver Star,” Reeves was very famous during his career.

Reeves wore disguises, had a Native American sidekick, rode a white and grey horse, was an excellent marksman, and he gave out silver keepsakes. Still, others believe the Lone Ranger is based on Zorro or Robin Hood.

The Lone Ranger Is Related To The Green Hornet

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Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

The radio adventure The Green Hornet debuted in 1936 and starred a masked vigilante known as the Green Hornet. It aired on the same local Detroit station as The Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger’s nephew was named Dan Reid. In The Green Hornet, the titular character’s father was named Dan Reid, so Britt Reid, the Green Hornet’s alter ego, was the Lone Ranger’s grandnephew.

The 1947 radio show episode “Too Hot to Handle” revealed the information after Dan said the family had a vigilante “pioneer ancestor” that he rode with in Texas. Then the Lone Ranger theme was played in the background.

The TV Series Was A Big Hit For ABC

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Perhaps you’re most familiar with the Lone Ranger from the TV series, which aired from 1949 to 1957. The show starred Clayton Moore as the titular character and Jay Silverheels as Tonto. The show was a massive success for ABC in the 1950s.

Moore’s portrayal of the Lone Ranger is probably the most famous. He left during the third season and was replaced by John Hart before returning to play the ranger again in the last two seasons. All of the show’s 221 episodes were filmed in black and white except for the fifth and final season.

The Theme Music Is Unforgettable

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LMPC via Getty Images
LMPC via Getty Images

One of the most memorable things about the Lone Ranger is the theme music. The song is the March of the Swiss Soldiers, which is the finale of the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini. Because of its use in the swashbuckling TV show, the song is one of the most recognizable pieces in the classical canon.

The overture has been used repeatedly in both classical music and media. It’s been used in Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse cartoon The Band Concert as well as in cartoons that parody classical music or Westerns.

Clayton Moore Was Sued For Making Appearances As The Lone Ranger After The Show Ended

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Steve Oroz/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Steve Oroz/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Clayton Moore starred in 169 of the 221 Lone Ranger episodes. In 1958 after the series ended, he started making personal appearances as the infamous character. He appeared on TV shows, commercials, etc. wearing the signature mask. His costar Jay Silverheels would appear alongside him occasionally.

In 1979, the owner of the Lone Ranger character, Jack Wrather, sued Moore so he would no longer make appearances as the Lone Ranger. Moore countersued, and Wrather eventually dropped the lawsuit in 1984. He died two months later.

Moore Completely And Fully Embodied The Lone Ranger Persona

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Clayton Moore wasn’t just acting when he appeared as the Lone Ranger outside of the TV series. He took the role to heart and became inseparable with the character. In 2006, he was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame with his character’s name next to his on the star: Clayton Moore — The Lone Ranger.

In 1982, Moore was inducted into the Stuntman’s Hall of Fame. Eight years later he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Jay Silverheels, A Canadian, Was An Excellent Lacrosse Player

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Jay Silverheels was born in Canada and was a member of the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario. His grandfather was a Mohawk chief. Silverheels was a very accomplished athlete who played lacrosse for the Toronto Tecumsehs as well as other teams in the North American Amateur Lacrosse Association.

While he was touring North America with his team in 1937, he was discovered in Los Angeles for his athletic abilities. He did a screen test and shortly afterward started stunt work and playing as an extra.

Silverheels Was Typecast After Appearing In The Lone Ranger

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Silver Screen Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Archive Photos/Getty Images

When he first started in Hollywood, Silverheels was billed as Harold Smith or Harry Smith, names he used as a lacrosse player. Silverheels initially started in low-budget features and westerns. His greatest and most memorable role was as Tonto in the Lone Ranger TV series.

After the show ended, he had trouble finding roles because he was typecast as a Native American. He became a salesman and bred and raced horses as a hobby. He and his wife had four daughters and one son. He died at age 67 in 1980 due to complications from a stroke.

There Have Been Six Lone Ranger Movies

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Bettmann, contributor, Getty Images
Bettmann, contributor, Getty Images

Clayton Moore starred in two Lone Ranger movies: 1956’s The Lone Ranger and 1958’s The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold. In 1961, CBS made Return of the Lone Ranger, which starred Tex Hill and was intended to be the pilot episode for a TV series. The 1981 film The Legend of the Lone Ranger was made by Wrather Corp.

The WB network aired 2003’s The Lone Ranger with Chad Michael Murray in the titular role with the aim of turning it into a TV series. However, it did not draw a strong audience. Johnny Depp starred in 2013’s The Lone Ranger as Tonto. The film was critically panned and didn’t perform well at the box office.

Depp’s Lone Ranger Film Nearly Included Werewolves

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

As you may recall, the Lone Ranger only used silver bullets, which reminded him of how precious life was. He would not fire his gun unless absolutely necessary. His bullets were also his calling card, so people would know who made the shot. The screenwriters of the 2013 Johnny Depp-starring film considered including werewolves in the script.

They thought the Lone Ranger and Tonto could battle the creatures in the Old West and kill them with silver bullets. Yet, somehow the script was not approved in this incarnation, according to ScreenCrush. We can’t imagine why.

The Rights To The Lone Ranger Have Changed Hands A Lot

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Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

In the 1930s, George W. Trendle owned the Lone Ranger and its affiliated characters through his company called The Lone Ranger, Inc. In 1954, Trendle sold the rights to producer and oilman Jack Wrather for $3 million. Thirty years later following Wrather’s death, his widow sold the rights to Southbrook International Television Co. for $10 million

In 1994, Broadway Video bought the rights to the Lone Ranger and then turned it over to Classic Media in 2000, which was acquired by DreamWorks Animation in 2012. NBCUniversal then acquired DreamWorks Animation (now DreamWorks Classics) in 2016 for $3.8 billion. The rights are now owned by Universal Pictures, which is a division of NBCUniversal.

Over 18 Actors Portrayed The Lone Ranger

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Fred Ramage/Keystone/Getty Images
Fred Ramage/Keystone/Getty Images

This photo is from July 22, 1958. Actor Clayton Moore visited the Horse Guards on parade at Buckingham Palace during his stay in London, where he appeared on Children’s Television on BBC and radio programs.

As we noted earlier, The Lone Ranger started as a radio series. There were a total of 3,500 radio shows, two 15-chapter Republic serials, 221 television segments, and three theatrical releases. The TV series is still in syndication, and over 18 actors have portrayed the Lone Ranger in its various incarnations.

It Ran For Two Decades

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CBS
CBS

It’s not easy for a new television show to run for one season let alone two decades. Debuting on television in 1955, Gunsmoke aired its finale in 1975. In that time it transitioned from being broadcast in black and white to color and is considered one of the greatest television shows of all time.

The show followed the life of a Marshall Matt Dillon who keeps the people of the Dodge City, Kansas in line.

It Began As A Radio Show

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CBS
CBS

Gunsmoke might be most famous as a television show, but it actually began as a radio program in 1952. For three years it built a following on the radio before being developed into a television show.

The success of the radio program was one of the prime reasons the TV show was such a huge hit right away. Each episode lasted for 30 minutes, with William Conrad starring as Matt Dillon. The TV show replaced Conrad with James Arness.

Over 600 Episodes Were Produced

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CBS
CBS

By the time Gunsmoke went off the air in 1975, 635 episodes had been produced. At the time, no scripted television show in prime time had made more episodes. To most audiences, it felt like no television show would even come close.

The success of Gunsmoke was unrivaled at the time, but then another show came along that was wildly different from the dramatic western. The Simpsons debuted in 1989 and is still on the air today.

William Conrad Created The Character Of Matt Dillon

Gunsmoke
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

William Conrad may have created the character of Matt Dillon, but James Arness embodied it. Beginning in 1955, the official end of Gunskmoke came with the television movie Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice in 1994.

That means that Arness played the role of Matt Dillon in five different decades! Aside from the starring role, Arness got his most significant work in Hollywood playing Zeb Macahan for 26 episodes on How The West Was Won, another western that aired from 1976 until 1979.

Arness Played The Role For Five Decades

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CBS
CBS

William Conrad may have created the character of Matt Dillon, but James Arness embodied it. Beginning in 1955, the official end of Gunskmoke came with the television movie Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice in 1994.

That means that Arness played the role of Matt Dillon in five different decades! Aside from the starring role, Arness got his most significant work in Hollywood playing Zeb Macahan for 26 episodes on How The West Was Won, another western that aired from 1976 until 1979.

An Amazing List Of Guest Stars

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CBS
CBS

Over the course of 20 years, a successful television show is bound to feature dozen, if not hundreds of guest stars. Gunsmoke not only featured an incredible amount of guest stars, but several went on to become major stars in their own right.

This list of stars includes Charles Bronson, Gary Busey, Beau Bridges, Harrison Ford, Jodie Foster, and so many more. Harrison Ford, who would go on to play Han Solo and Indiana Jones might be the most famous guest star of all!

Did Albert Einstein Appear On The Show?

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CBS
CBS

At some point in time, a rumor started circulating that Albert Einstein was involved with Gunsmoke in some capacity. No one knows where the rumor came from, but it quickly turned into an urban legend.

Anyone curious about this urban legend will be disappointed. Einstein died a few months before the show began airing, so that chances of him having shot any scenes or working on it in some other capacity are slim to none.

The Show Gave No Backstory

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CBS
CBS

One of the most important aspects new shows must include to hook viewers are character backstories. Gunsmoke did not provide any but still proved to be wildly popular with audiences.

The show left the back story up to the imagination of its audience, which worked with the western setting. After all, the great myth about the American wild west is just as interesting as the characters who lived in it. Still, a little back story would have been nice.

The Show Was Always Highly Rated

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CBS
CBS

It didn’t take long for Gunsmoke to find its footing with an audience. Two years after premiering on CBS it became the top-rated show on television. It held the crown for four seasons before ratings began to fall.

Rating fell to their lowest level around the time the show was almost canceled by CBS. Luckily for the network, it changed its mind, because Gunsmoke jumped back into the primetime top ten for viewership numbers in the 1970s.

John Wayne Was Involved With Casting

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CBS
CBS

John Wayne was ever seriously considered for the starring role in Gunsmoke, but he did help James Arness land the gig. is probably the most famous Western star of all time. Arness was offered the part but was hesitant to take it.

The Wayne stepped in and talked to the young actor. Whatever he said worked, and Arness took the role of a lifetime. Can you imagine if he hadn’t listened to the advice of the greatest Western actor of all time?

CBS Almost Axed It

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CBS
CBS

It’s hard to make it past one season as a television show, so the fact that Gunsmoke ran for 20 years is incredible. Even more incredible is how close CBS came to canceling it in 1967.

In its 12th season, ratings were beginning to drop, so CBS planned to drop the show from its schedule. Before the final decision was made, however, the network changed its mind and Gunsmoke ran for eight more seasons.

The Show Won Emmys Every Decade It Aired

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CBS
CBS

Gunsmoke aired in three decades, the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. In each of those decades it managed to make television history by winning Emmys. Over its 20 season run, the show was nominated for 15 awards and won five statuettes.

The show was also nominated for four Golden Globes, three for Amada Blake as “Best TV Actress.” The five television movies never received any major nominations, although James Arness returned to star in every single one.

Parley Baer Worked At The Circus

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CC-BY-SA
CC-BY-SA

Before becoming a TV actor, Parley Baer was active in the circus. When he finished school, he didn’t jump into acting, instead becoming a ringmaster and publicist for the greatest show on Earth. When he left the circus he became an animal trainer.

It wasn’t until 1950, when he was nearly 40-years-old, that he was cast in his first role as the Bartender in Comanche Territory. He continued to act 2001, starring as Cat in Man and Cat. One year later he passed away.

The Creator’s Wife Fought Bulls

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Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

John Meston is credited as one of the creators of Gunsmoke, but we don’t want to talk about him. We want to talk about his wife, who became a bullfighter while the couple was happily married.

His wife was an actress to start her career, but didn’t make a name for herself until she began fighting bulls professionally. Most notably, she was the first woman to ever fight a bull in the Plaza Mexico, the world’s largest bullfighting arena.

Gunsmoke Pushed Several Products

puzzle
patton1603/Pinterest
patton1603/Pinterest

At the peak of its popularity, Gunsmoke became much more than just a television show. The name recognition it provided was used to sell unrelated products because as long it carried the show’s name it sold out at stores.

Some of the products that began carrying the Gunsmokebranding were toys, cottage cheese, and cigarettes. That’s a large variety, and there were even stranger products sold with the name, too. How much would you pay for the Gunsmoke jigsaw puzzle featured here?

Amanda Blake Bred Animals

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CBS
CBS

When Gunsmoke ended, not everyone involved continued to work in Hollywood. Amanda Blake, who was nominated for several awards for her role took a long break and became a famous animal breeder.

With her husband, the couple did something incredible as an animal breeder. They began breeding cheetah in captivity. They were so successful that they ended up running the first cheetah breeding program and became involved with no-kill shelters and animal refuges. The Amanda Blake Memorial Wildlife Refuge opens in 1997 in California.

The Show Is Considered One Of The Best All-Time

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CBS
CBS

As the years passed with Gunsmoke off the air, it became revered as one of the greatest shows of all-time. The praise came despite its lack of awards. The 1990s were especially nice to the show.

That decade saw it named the best Western of all-time by TV Guide and the 16th greatest show of all-time by Entertainment Weekly. James Arness was also recognized by TV Guides readers as the best television gunslinger in a 1998 reader poll.

James Arness Was A Television Man

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CBS
CBS

James Arness is most famous for his role as James Arness in Gunsmoke, but it wasn’t the only role he ever played. The actor stayed relevant on television after the show ended, most notable in How The West Was Won.

Arness continued to act through the 1990s, fittingly making his final appearance in Gunsmoke: One Man’s Justice. Arness lived a long life. After retiring in 1993, he settled into retirement, passing away in 2011 at 88-years-old.

Arness Wasn’t The Only Talented One In His Family

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Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

James Arness was a talented actor, and so was his brother, Peter Graves. Graves was most famous for starring as Jim Phelps in Mission Impossible. The show ran on CBS from 1967 until 1973, and was eventually turned into a movie franchise starring Tom Cruise.

Aside from Mission Impossible, Graves also starred in several movies including House on Haunted Hill, Men In Black II, and Airplane! He sadly was not asked to appear in Mission Impossible when it was adapted as a cinematic experience.

Height Matters

John Wayne In Hondo
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

James Arness stood at an astonishing 6’7″ tall, making him a true giant in Hollywood. It also made him three inches taller than John Wayne. Amazingly, Arness never appeared to be that tall in any of his roles and was even asked about how it worked.

He replied, “I guess people just had to get used to it. The big thing with the show was that we had a lot of really fine actors, and more than that, we had started out with great writing.”

Arness Was Friends With John Wayne

John Wayne
Bettmann / Contributor
Bettmann / Contributor

You already know that John Wayne convinced James Arness to take the lead role in Gunsmoke, but did you also know they were close friends in real life. Maybe it was their similar heights that connected them?

As friends, they also eventually became co-stars, appearing in the films Big Jim McLain, Hondo, Island in the Sky, and The Sea Chase together. And despite being nearly 20 years apart in age, the two were both born on the same day: May 26.