It was when we had just started working on the short-lived series OCCUPY AVENGERS when writer David Walker introduced me to HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL. (Check out his upcoming series NAOMI with Brian Michael Bendis.) I was describing my conception of the book, which owed a lot to the A-TEAM, and he came back referencing HAVE GUN, which I had never seen.
I’m not a big aficionado of westerns. For all that there were a lot of them around when I was growing up, they just never grabbed me. Even THE LONE RANGER, a show I likely should have watched religiously wasn’t something I got into until well after I was an adult. So it’s not much of a surprise that HAVE GUN had flown under my radar for so many years. But, inspired by what David had said, I programmed it into my DVR, as a local station was airing reruns during the day, and I started watching them.
I got lucky, in that the first episode that I saw, “The Predators” (S06Ep8) was one of the ones written by Harry Julian Fink. Years later, Fink would go on to co-create Dirty Harry among other things, and his episodes of HAVE GUN were always the darkest and the most challenging ones–the ones most likely to hook a viewer into an intense situation of moral complexity.
For those unfamiliar with the series, the show stars the mysterious Paladin, a man of breeding and culture who lives in a posh hotel in 1885 San Francisco, pursuing fine clothes, fine foods, fine wine and fine women. His real name is a mystery, but he’s an opera buff, an avid card player, a voracious reader, a cigar aficionado. But to fund his lavish lifestyle (he was disowned by his family for unspoken reasons at some point in the past) he hires out his considerable skills as a manhunter and a gunfighter at $1000.00 an assignment–a real piece of money in 1885. Every day, Paladin reads newspapers from all across the west, and when an item catches his interest, he sends the principle party involved his business card and an offer of assistance: Have Gun, Will Travel
Paladin was played to perfection by Richard Boone, a fine and multi-talented actor for whom the role resulted in financial freedom. Boone is hardly a typical leading man with his big, homely horse face–when the production team wanted to offer him the role, the network referred to him as the ugliest actor in the business. But that’s honestly one of the things I love most about him, that he isn’t cut from the same cloth as a million other Hollywood cowboys. In point of fact, Paladin was pretty much a super hero: he had a code-name, an origin, a uniform (while on the trail, Paladin trades his silk suits for functional western clothing, all in black like a bad guy would typically wear) and an insignia.
Over six seasons there were 225 episodes of HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL made between 1957 and 1963. And so, as a new feature for this Blog, I’m going to walk through what I consider the five best episodes of the series.