Probably one of the most intriguing westerns to air on television and radio in the 1950s was Have Gun, Will Travel. The series was one of the top three western television shows, exceeded only by Gunsmoke and Wagon Train in popularity. But, unlike the latter two, Have Gun, Will Travel was the only western to air first on television and then move to radio.
Have Gun Will Travel first aired on CBS television in 1957. Richard Boone played the dapper, black-clad Paladin, a high priced gun for hire.
Paladin was one of the first TV private detectives, certainly the first private eye type character on a TV western. Paladin, a name conceived from the white knight in chess game, and emboldened on his calling card with the inscription “Have Gun, Will Travel…Wire San Francisco,” fought for good against evil by hiring out as a ”gunslinger.” It was a chivalrous position, a knight with the qualities of courage, honor, courtesy and justice. And, the knight was always a gentleman. Paladin was a man of culture. He was educated at West Point and served as a Union officer in the Civil War. In 1875 San Francisco, Paladin resided at the swank Hotel Carlton, where he enjoyed the “escort” of lovely ladies and was taken care of by the Chinese bellboy, Hay (Hey) Boy. When Paladin was working he ditched his fancy duds and dressed completely in black, with his six-gun strapped low on his thigh. And, although a gun for hire, Paladin would turn against his employer if he found himself in a situation where he was fighting for evil.
Richard Boone as Paladin
The series was such a hit on television, Herb Meadows and Sam Rolfe started the CBS radio version of Have Gun, Will Travel in 1958. The radio program ran for two years. The Radio Paladin starred John Dehner and Ben Wright as Hay Boy. Dehner was a veteran actor and started his career as an animator for Walt Disney Studios, then worked as a disc jockey and a professional pianist. He made his Film debut in 1945. His western roles included outlaw leaders, crooked bankers and saloon owners. He was often cast as one of the bad guys in the radio version of Gunsmoke. He became a favorite for reading radio scripts because of his deep baritone voice.
His first Radio series was Frontier Gentleman, a short run western where Dehner portrayed a London Times journalist, J. B. Kendall, who traveled the old west. The show’s prologue stated that Kendall was “ A Man with a Gun.” When Have Gun, Will Travel moved to Radio, Dehner was a natural to play the suave sophisticated Paladin.
John Dehner as Paladin
Dehner’s radio Paladin was even more of the dandy than Richard Boone’s television character. The Radio Paladin was a ladies man who lavishly entertained his women with the most expensive and exotic foods known to West coast diners of the 1870s.
Click on Card for short clip
Have Gun, Will Travel was certainly a series that deviated from the western genre on many fronts, but on one front the show was consistent with other media at the end of the 1950s when programs began to portray some of societal ills apparent both in the eighteen hundreds and relevant to the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. “Hay Boys Revenge” was one such program presented on Have Gun, Will Travel that demonstrated the prejudice and labor conditions of Chinese workers in California during the era of capital growth and Railroad empire in post Civil War America.
Click on Card for 23 min. episode entitled Hay Boys Revenge
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