Things Fans Didn’t Know About 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.

Best remembered for its opening theme, progressive take on the Western genre, and successful time on-air, Have Gun-Will Travel is still considered to be one of the best Western series to date.

Read on to see why it was loved by so many and learn some behind-the-scenes acts that you may not know!

Richard Boone Wasn’t The First Choice To Play Paladin

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.

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

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.

The Show Wasn’t Always Going To Be A Western

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.”

Business card
CBS
CBS

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.

Behind The Name “Paladin”

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.

Richard Boone as Paladin
CBS
CBS

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.

Paladin’s Name Was Possibly Alexander Clay

Although in the television and radio show, Paladin’s true name is never revealed, it was mentioned in a book. 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.

Picture of Paladin
CBS
CBS

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

An Issue With Clothing Color

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 audience couldn’t tell that his clothes were blue, as they looked black.

Boone as Paladin
CBS
CBS

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.

The Show Launched Many Of The Writers’ Careers

Numerous 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!

Richard Boone Sitting in Movie Chair
Bettmann / Contributor
Bettmann / Contributor

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.

They Didn’t Film Solely In A Studio

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.

Actors in the show
CBS
CBS

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

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.

Picture of Hey Boy
CBS
CBS

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

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.

Silver knight piece
CBS
CBS

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 it, 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

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.

Title card for show
CBS
CBS

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

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.

Boone as Paladin
CBS
CBS

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.”

Cast of Boon
ITV
ITV

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.”

Films That Were Never Made

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.

JOHN TRAVOLTA IN NEW YORK CITY
Lawrence Schwartzwald/Sygma via Getty Images
Lawrence Schwartzwald/Sygma via Getty Images

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.

Richard Boone Directed A Number Of Episodes

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.

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

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.

Paladin Enters The Saloon From Gunsmoke

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.

Entering the saloon
CBS
CBS

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

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.

Old objects conserved in Cuba. Old style wooden radios of...
Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images
Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images

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

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.

Colored picture of Richard Boone
CBS
CBS

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 Series Was Nominated For (And Won) Awards

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).

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

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.”