“Paladin, Paladin where do you roam?
Paladin, Paladin where do you call home?
Have gun, will travel reads the card of the man…
A knight without armor in a savage land…”
His gunfights and fisticuffs were certainly old school Old West, but Paladin was more complex than most of the TV cowboys. When he marched into the roughest parts of the roughest towns, he’d get the job done, but when he wasn’t on the job, he made the swanky Hotel Carlton in San Francisco his home. And there, he partook liberally of all of life’s finer accoutrements—art, women, good bourbon and good literature. As a West Point grad, he knew his history, he could quote from the Greeks and the Romantic poets…be it to charm a lady friend or teach some shady character a little something about Socratic right and wrong. Paladin was nobody’s ‘aw, shucks’ cowboy.
Of course, Paladin didn’t just read literature’s masters—he always scanned the several newspapers that he subscribed to, seeking potential clients. And to the poor souls he read about, the victims and innocents, the scores of humanity’s unprotected, to these he’d send his famous business card (an image of a white chess knight and the motto “Have Gun, Will Travel… Wire Paladin, San Francisco”). Then, the show would usually kick off with Hey Boy bringing the boss his messages and the latest request for service.
Paladin’s standard fee was a thousand dollars—a lot of money in those days—though he sometimes waived it and worked for free. And occasionally, Paladin came down on the very people who had hired him in the first place—if it turned out that they were the truly corrupt ones in that particular episode’s plot mix. There was nary a fee or a business arrangement that took precedent over his sense of ethics.
Series star Richard Boone had his hand in everything Have Gun related. He directed several episodes, was involved in writing and casting, and he even helped write the show’s popular theme song “The Ballad of Paladin,” a hit Johnny Western single in the early 60’s. Kam Tong played Paladin’s assistant Hey Boy, except in 1959 when he worked on The Garlund Touch, and occasionally during the 1960-61 season, when was replaced by Lisa Lu, playing Hey Girl.
From 1958-61, Have Gun was the number three program on television. It aired Saturday nights, at 9:30 p.m., the lead-in to another popular western, Gunsmoke. In 1974, legal controversy reared its head when a federal magistrate found in favor of a Rhode Island radio performer, Victor De Costa, who claimed he had actually created the character in the 1940’s and was entitled to a chunk of the show’s profits.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry cut his teeth on Have Gun incidentally—the complex and faceted heroes that became his specialty got their start on terra firma and then graduated to space.
USA / CBS – Filmaster / 226×25 minute episodes / Broadcast 14 September 1957 – 21 September 1963
Creator: Herb Mendow, Sam Rolfe / Theme Music: Johnny Western, Richard Boone, Sam Rolfe / Sung by Johnny Western / Producers: Frank Pierson, Don Ingalls, Robert Sparks, Julian Claman,
RICHARD BOONE as Paladin
KAM TONG as Hey Boy
LISA LU as Hey Girl (1960-1961)