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Series / Have Gun Will Travel

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"I may no longer be an officer and a gentleman, but I am not an assassin."
"Have Gun - Will Travel reads the card of a man...
A knight without armor in a savage land...
His fast gun for hire heeds the calling wind...
A soldier of fortune is the man called.... Paladin!
Paladin, Paladin, where do you roam?
Paladin, Paladin, far far from home!
"The Ballad of Paladin", performed by Johnny Western

Have Gun Will Travel is an American Western television series that ran on CBS from 1957 to 1963, starring Richard Boone as the gentleman gunfighter Paladin, a West Point-educated former army officer who worked as a "fixer" of sorts, settling disputes and solving problems that would normally escalate into unnecessary violence, charging a standard fee of $1000. Paladin would attempt to solve the problem with minimal conflict using his cunning and education, but if the situation called for it his skill with both his fists and his gun would prove more than sufficient.

Paladin would advertise his services through business cards which read simply:

Have Gun Will Travel
Wire Paladin, San Francisco

This would as often as not lead to the mistaken idea that Paladin was a professional killer a term he resented which would either result in people who wanted to avoid violence turning down his offer without hearing him out, or people who wanted a killer demanding he assassinate someone. In response, Paladin would either prove himself a good person, wait for the situation to become dire enough that his would be clients realized they had no other choice but to hire him, or turn to work for the innocent people his crooked client wanted him to kill. Another common mishap was that Paladin would often be mistaken as a "dandy" from the east before proving himself to be a badass. Equally common were episodes taking place after one of Paladin's jobs, where he stumbled upon an adventure quite by accident.

Episodes ranged in tone from dark and deadly serious, to light hearted comedy, giving Boone excellent chance to display his range as an actor. The setting could vary from the prairie of the old west, the deserts of Mexico, the snow covered rocky mountains, the small town, to the big city. The show attracted dozens of guest stars, including Charles Bronson, Vincent Price, John Carradine, and Lee Van Cleef. There was also a radio version, running from 1958 to 1960, which starred John Dehner as Paladin; it was one of the last American radio dramas with regular characters. In addition, there have been three books published based on the TV show, and a movie is in the works, but has languished in Development Hell since 1997. It was set for a 2013 release, obviously that didn't happen.

Note: Although Gene Roddenberry regularly claimed to have been the show's head writer, he wasn't - the show didn't have one - but he penned numerous episodes as a freelance writer. In fact, he has more writing credits on this show than any other series he worked on. (Yes, including this one.)

Have Gun Will Travel contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Adventure Towns
  • And Your Reward Is Clothes: Non-video-game example, Paladin once did a job for a high-class tailor and for payment would only accept two custom suits a year for the rest of his life. He noted it was actually more expensive than his standard charge; he intended to live for a very long time.
  • Appropriated Appellation: A flashback shows that Paladin got his name in this manner. A villainous employer falsely made him believe that a gunfighter calling himself Smoke was a villain terrorizing a town. The dying Smoke revealed the truth and sarcastically referred to his killer as a "paladin". His killer adopted that name and to atone, becoming a hero while wearing Smoke's costume.
  • Artistic License Gun Safety: In the intro, Paladin mentions that the trigger of his gun responds to "an ounce of pressure". Though probably an exaggeration, this would be a very bad thing in real life. Most guns, even finely tuned competition guns don't drop below one pound of pressure, or the gun would go off very easily.
  • The Atoner: Paladin's backstory makes him this along with an interesting spin on Redeeming Replacement. He was hired to challenge a man named Smoke whom he believed to be a villain terrorizing a town. Smoke sarcastically referred to him as a paladin during their gunfight, and the future Paladin fatally wounded him, learning too late that Smoke was defending the town and the villain was his employer. Thus, he decided to don Smoke's costume and do good in that guise (starting with killing his treacherous employer).
  • Audio Adaptation: It was one of the few television shows that then had an adaptation for radio, as opposed to the other way around.
  • Berserk Button: One episode had Paladin taking a job to help his star-crossed lover, and over the course of the case a ranch hand slaps her. Paladin nearly beats him to death and only stops from a combination of her pleading and the ranch owner threatening to kill him if he continued his assault.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Paladin is generally a fairly friendly guy, and he is even gentle to nice people, but he can be a terrible enemy if you cross him/hurt innocents. See Berserk Button just above this entry if you need any more proof that it is NOT a good idea to push the genteel, cultured Paladin too far.
  • Boy Meets Girl: In "Ella West," it is done in reverse. Ella meets Tracey, loses him when he refuses to commit, and meets him again at a Wild West Show where they are both performing.
  • The Charmer: Paladin's a classic example.
  • Chess Motifs: Paladin's card and the design on his gun holster feature a white knight.
  • Chinese Laborer: Hey Boy, the porter at the Carlton Hotel. Occasionally he was replaced by his female counterpart, Hey Girl, who was much more erudite in English.
  • Cultured Badass: Paladin is an excellent example of this; he recites poetry and classical literature off the top of his head (even pronouncing Latin with the classically correct pronunciations!), regularly takes in opera and ballet, enjoys fine dining, fine clothes, and displaying skill as an artist. But his status as a badass can't be questioned. It should be noted that Richard Boone himself was a real-life example of a Cultured Badass, being a decorated War Hero and golden-gloves boxer on top of being a classically trained Shakespearean actor.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Despite his nickname correctly conveying his Knight in Shining Armor personality, Paladin dresses in a black outfit that's more along the lines of what a villainous gunfighter would wear in a traditional Western. In fact, a flashback shows that it was originally worn by a gunfighter who Paladin mistakenly thought was a villain and killed him, and he wears the outfit as a form of atonement.
  • Drugs Are Bad: The show did a couple of excellent episodes dealing with alcoholism. William Conrad's performance in "The Man Who Struck Whiskey" as a man desperately trying to go sober will break your heart.
  • Genius Bruiser: While not particularly huge, Richard Boone is a good-sized man, and Paladin's intelligence is a defining characteristic.
  • Girl of the Week: The radio show has Paladin returning from his adventures to a new Girl of the Week. Subverted in that he wasn't always successful in the attempt.
  • The Gunslinger: Typical of westerns, Paladin is classic type D.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Oscar Wilde is a central character in one episode.
    • Alfred Nobel is the central character for "Hobson's Choice" hiring Paladin to find a shipment of nitroglycerin.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: In "The Great Mojave Chase", Paladin gambles on eluding an accomplished team of man-hunters in their own stretch of arid wasteland.
  • Knight Errant: Paladin
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Paladin, as the name suggests, although he wears what looks more like a villainous outfit if you go by traditional Good Colours, Evil Colours. In some of the darker stories, he can come off as more of a Knight in Sour Armor. When dealing with more disgusting individuals, his bitterness can shine through.
  • The Lady's Favour: "Return of the Lady" finds Diana tying a handkerchief around Paladin's arm as he goes to fight her would-be husband, B.G., in a saber duel.
  • Little Useless Gun: Although he carries a revolver and typically a rifle, Paladin often stands this trope on its head. He typically uses the derringer when someone takes his revolver and thinks him helpless. The derringer saves his life as often as his revolver does.
  • Mail-Order Bride: "The Bride" features Paladin escorting a mail order bride to her new husband.
  • Meaningful Rename: A later episode revealed that this is why he calls himself Paladin.
  • My Card: Obviously.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Paladin isn't the main character's real name. Even people who'd known him since before the Civil War only used that name! Especially impressive since he acquired it in the pilot.
  • Poor Communication Kills: As mentioned, Paladin's business card can cause some confusion over his profession that can occasionally lead to rather unfortunate mix-ups. More often than not the confusion is resolved without anyone dying, but on every now and then ...
  • Public Domain Character: Phineas Fogg and Passepartout hire Paladin to escort them in one episode.
  • Put on a Bus: The ending of the radio series has Paladin inheriting a small fortune and heading back East to handle the estate, though he does promise to be back for Hey Boy's wedding.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: Bernard Herrmann wrote the original theme (and scored the pilot), with "The Ballad Of Paladin" coming along from season two.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: In "Ella West," Paladin convinces the cursing, drinking, filthy woman shooter to take a bath. She puts on a dress and becomes a beautiful woman.
  • The Sheriff: Paladin often interacts with sheriffs in the course of his jobs. In one episode of the Radio Drama, Paladin helps out a "sheriff" (town marshal version) who's just returned from an Eastern education and is trying to enforce the Philadelphia city ordinances on a small cow town.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Paladin regularly smokes cigars.
  • Sound-to-Screen Adaptation: Inverted with the radio series, which is pretty much the only successful "golden age" radio adaptation of a hit TV show.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Paladin will avoid killing if possible, and more than one episode ends without anyone dying. When it becomes necessary, however, he won't hesitate.
  • Utility Belt: Not the superhero style, but his belt carries bullets, and he keeps a derringer behind the belt buckle.
  • We Help the Helpless: Although Paladin is, essentially, a mercenary, he always ends up on the morally correct side of a conflict (even if which side that was wasn't initially clear). Sometimes he even waives his fee if someone is in dire need and can't pay.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Paladin will often use his gun as a deterrent, either simply pulling it out or shooting an object to scare his enemy into backing down.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: This is in essence Paladin's defining moment. He thought he was the noble white hat hired by the well-intentioned local leader to fight off some bandits. It was only after he killed their leader that Paladin realized they were peaceful homesteaders and he was the hired muscle for the evil Cattle Baron trying to shove them off their rightful homes. He soon decided to be a lot more careful about who he works for after that.
  • Young Future Famous People: In "Pancho," Paladin tangles with a young Mexican bandit, Torodeo. They manage not to kill each other, and when they part company at the end, we learn that Torodeo's men call him by a different name — Pancho Villa. (There's a bit of Artistic License History going on here; Pancho Villa was only born in 1878, right around when Have Gun — Will Travel is set.)