Have Gun - Will Travel (1957–1963)


Have Gun - Will Travel (TV Series 1957–1963)

Professional gunfighter Paladin was a West Point graduate who, after the Civil War, settled into San Francisco's Hotel Carlton were he awaited responses to his business card: over the picture of a chess knight "Have Gun, Will Travel ... Wire Paladin, San Francisco."
IMDb   8.4 /10
TheMovieDb    8.0 /10
Creator Herb Meadow
Creator Sam Rolfe
Release Date1957-09-14
Content RatingApproved (Approved)
AwardsNominated for 5 Primetime Emmys. Another 1 win & 1 nomination.
CompanyCBS Television Network, Filmaster Productions
Paladin / ... 225 episodes, 1957-1963
Hey Boy / ... 107 episodes, 1957-1963

Have Gun – Will Travel

Have Gun – Will Travel is an American Western series that was produced and originally broadcast by CBS on both television and radio from 1957 through 1963. The television version of the series was rated number three or number four in the Nielsen ratings every year of its first four seasons, and it is one of the few shows in television history to spawn a successful radio version. That radio series debuted November 23, 1958, more than a year after the premiere of its televised counterpart.


Have Gun – Will Travel was created by Sam Rolfe and Herb Meadow and produced by Frank Pierson, Don Ingalls, Robert Sparks, and Julian Claman. Of the 225 episodes of the television series, 24 were written by Gene Roddenberry. Other major contributors included Bruce Geller, Harry Julian Fink, Don Brinkley, and Irving Wallace. Andrew V. McLaglen directed 101 episodes, and 28 were directed by series star Richard Boone.


This series follows the adventures of a man calling himself "Paladin" (played by Richard Boone on television and voiced by John Dehner on radio), taking his name from that of the foremost knights in Charlemagne's court. He is a gentleman investigator/gunfighter who travels around the Old West working as a mercenary for people who hire him to solve their problems.

Although Paladin charges steep fees to clients who can afford to hire him, typically $1000 per job, he provides his services for free to poor people who need his help. Like many Westerns, the television show is set in a nebulous time period, after the Civil War. The radio show states the year in the opening of every episode.

The season 5 television episode, "A Drop of Blood", gives the specific date of July 3, 1879.


The title is a variation on a cliche used in personal advertisements in newspapers like The Times, indicating that the advertiser is ready for anything. It has been used this way from the early twentieth century.

A trope common in theatrical advertising at the time was "Have tux, will travel", and CBS has claimed this was the specific inspiration for the writer Herb Meadow. The television show popularized the phrase in the 1960s, and many variations have been used as titles for other works, including Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein published in 1958.



Paladin prefers to settle the difficulties clients bring his way without violence, but this rarely happens. When forced, he excels in fisticuffs. Under his real name, which is never revealed, he was a dueling champion of some renown. Paladin is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and a veteran of the American Civil War, in which he served as a Union cavalry officer.

His permanent place of residence is the Hotel Carlton in San Francisco, where he lives the life of a successful businessman and bon vivant, wearing elegant custom-made suits, consuming fine wine, playing the piano, and attending the opera and other cultural events. He is an expert chess player, poker player, and swordsman. He is skilled in Chinese martial arts and is seen in several episodes receiving instruction and training with a Kung Fu master in San Francisco. He is highly educated, able to quote classic literature, philosophy, and case law, and speaks several languages. He is also president of the San Francisco Stock Exchange Club.

When out working, Paladin changes into all-black Western-style clothing. His primary weapon is a custom-made, first-generation .45 caliber Colt Single Action Army Cavalry Model revolver with an unusual rifled barrel, carried in a black leather holster (with a platinum chess knight symbol facing the rear), hanging from a black leather gunbelt. He also carries a lever action Marlin rifle strapped to his saddle. In some episodes, he has a Remington derringer concealed under his belt; in other episodes, it is a single-shot Merrimack Arms "Southerner" derringer.

Paladin gives out a business card imprinted with "Have Gun Will Travel" and an engraving of a white knight chess piece, which evokes the proverbial white knight and the knight in shining armor. A closeup of this card is used as a title card between scenes in the program.

Other recurring characters

The one other major semiregular character in the show is the Chinese bellhop at the Carlton Hotel, known as Hey Boy (real name Kim Chan or Kim Chang): in the first season in the episode called "Hey Boy's Revenge", the character Hey Boy is sought by Paladin under the name Kim Chan, which is written on a piece of paper and shown on screen. As the episode continues, Hey Boy is referred to (verbally) five times as Kim Chan and then on the sixth incident Paladin states Hey Boy's name as Kim Chang and thereafter he is referred to as Kim Chang every time. No explanation is given for the name change. Hey Boy is played by Kam Tong. According to author and historian Martin Grams, Jr., Hey Boy is featured in all but the fourth of the show's six seasons, with the character of Hey Girl, played by Lisa Lu, replacing Hey Boy for season four while Kam Tong worked on the Mr. Garlund television series. Lisa Lu had previously played Hey Boy's sister, Kim Li, in "Hey Boy's Revenge".

Character actor Olan Soule appears across all six seasons in ten episodes of Have Gun - Will Travel as an employee of the Carlton Hotel, usually identified as the manager/desk clerk. The character's name is inconsistent, being given as "Cartwright" in two episodes, and "Matthews" in another. Tony Regan also appears as an unnamed desk clerk in over a dozen episodes, between seasons 2 and 5. Hal Needham, later a noted director, worked on the show as a stunt performer and can be seen as a bit part player (in a wide variety of roles) in nearly fifty episodes.

Notable guest stars

Guest stars included Jack Albertson, Martin Balsam, Edward Binns, Robert Blake, Dan Blocker, Charles Bronson, Kathie Browne, Edgar Buchanan, Dyan Cannon, John Carradine, Lon Chaney, Jr., James Coburn, Mike Connors, William Conrad, James Craig, Angie Dickinson, Buddy Ebsen, Jack Elam, Peter Falk, James Franciscus, Peggy Ann Garner, Murray Hamilton, Ben Johnson, DeForest Kelley, George Kennedy, Werner Klemperer, Patric Knowles, June Lockhart, Jack Lord, Strother Martin, Victor McLaglen, Harry Morgan, Warren Oates, Odetta, Suzanne Pleshette, Sydney Pollack, Vincent Price, Denver Pyle, Pernell Roberts, Janice Rule, Albert Salmi, Harry Dean Stanton, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Weston and Stuart Whitman.

Opening sequence

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Originally, each show opened with the same 45-second visual. Over a slow four-note-repeat backbeat score, a tight shot of Paladin's chess knight emblem centered in a black background is seen, before the view widens to show the emblem affixed to Paladin's holster, with Paladin in his trademark costume seen from waist level in profile. Then as he draws his revolver from the holster, the four-note-repeat backbeat fades to a light, almost harp-like strumming. He cocks the hammer, and then rotates the gun to point the barrel at the viewer for 10 seconds, often delivering a line of dialogue from the coming episode, after which the pistol is uncocked and holstered briskly. As the weapon is reholstered and the view tightens to show only the chess knight, again, the four-note-repeat backbeat returns.

As only the chess knight emblem in a black background is back, the name "RICHARD BOONE" appears across the screen for about 5 seconds. The name fades out and immediately the words "in HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL" fade in, again for about 5 seconds. Boone's name and the show's title is accompanied by a four-note "stinger" that overshadows the four-note-repeat. The "stinger" is roughly the same as that heard when Paladin's business card is flashed on screen (in almost every episode). The words fade away after those 5 seconds leaving only the chess knight emblem against the black background, and the four-note-repeat fades out. This opening then fades out and the show fades in on its opening scene.

In a later version of the opening sequence (Seasons 3-6), there is a long-range shot, with Paladin in a full-body profile silhouette, and he fast-draws the revolver, dropping into a slight crouch as he turns, pointing at the camera. After the dubbed-over line, he straightens as he shoves the firearm into his holster. This silhouette visual remained for the run of the series. In later episodes, the teaser line was dropped; as seen in many of the episodes of the final two seasons' opening titles, when Paladin crouches and points his gun at the camera, first "RICHARD BOONE", and then "HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL" would appear as before, and Boone would reholster his gun as the words faded out. Due to the networks not always airing episodes in the order they were filmed, the omission of the voice-over dialogue was inconsistent for some of the episodes, as seen in the opening titles. Season 6 did have the most opening titles without the voice-over dialogue, especially as the season progressed, again as seen when the episodes opened.

Filming locations

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Unlike many westerns, entire episodes were filmed outdoors and away from the Old West street set on Irving Street just below Melrose Avenue, the home of Filmaster television production company. Filmaster was located across the street from, later becoming part of, Paramount Studios' backlot. The area is now enclosed in the independent Kingsley Productions studio lot encompassing a city block. Beginning in season four, filming locations were often given in the closing credits. Locations included Bishop and Lone Pine, California; an area now known as Paladin Estates between Bend and Sisters, Oregon; and the Abbott Ranch near Prineville, Oregon.


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The program's opening was a four-note motif composed and conducted by Bernard Herrmann.

For the opening theme, Herrmann reused a short sequence he had previously composed for the 1951 movie On Dangerous Ground, starring Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino. The "Have Gun – Will Travel" theme (and fragments of incidental music also used in the television series) are featured in a chase scene across snowy fields; at the 35:25 mark of the film, the actual "Have Gun – Will Travel" opening theme is played in recognizable form, although the scoring is slightly different than that heard in the better-known television version.

The show's closing song, "The Ballad of Paladin", was written by Johnny Western (who had a role in Season 1 Episode 35, "The Return of Dr. Thackeray"), Richard Boone, and program creator Sam Rolfe, and was performed by Western. In the first season the closing song was a reprise of the opening theme. In syndication, the first (premise) episode concludes with the Johnny Western ballad. The rest of the run of the first-season episodes play a reprise of the opening theme; although the theme song was used in closing at least four times in season 1, including episodes 33 & 34.

In the second season the song was the only closing music. In the third season a new lyric was added to the five line "The Ballad of Paladin" making it six lines long. In 1962–1963, the final season, the song's lyrics were cut to four lines, the original fourth and added sixth being dropped. This occurred because the production credits for writer, producer and director were pulled from the closing credits to appear over the opening sequences. However, in the Season 6 episode "Sweet Lady in the Moon" (Episode 26, 1963), the ballad was played complete over the closing credits.

Johnny Western has sung a fully recorded version, opening with the refrain and including a second verse never heard on the television series.

Broadcast history and ratings

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September 1957 – April 1963: Saturdays at 9:30 p.m.

  • October 1957 – April 1958: #4 – 33.7
  • October 1958 – April 1959: #3 – 34.3
  • October 1959 – April 1960: #3 – 34.7
  • October 1960 – April 1961: #3 – 30.9
  • October 1961 – April 1962: #29 – 22.2
  • October 1962 – April 1963: #29 – 20.8


The television show 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 Series (1959); and Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Series (Lead or Support), for Richard Boone (1960).

In 1957, Gene Roddenberry received the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Script for the episode "Helen of Abajinian".


Many of the writers who worked on Have Gun – Will Travel went on to gain fame elsewhere. Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek, Bruce Geller created Mission: Impossible, Samuel A. Peeples created The Tall Man, Custer, and Lancer, and Harold Jack Bloom created Boone's later series Hec Ramsey and the 1970s medical-adventure series Emergency! Harry Julian Fink is one of the writers who created Dirty Harry (the opening title and theme scene of the 1973 Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force features a Paladin-like sequence of a handgun being slowly cocked and then finally pointed toward the camera, with a potent line of dialogue). Sam Peckinpah wrote one episode, "The Singer," which aired in 1958. Other notable writers who contributed an episode include Gene L. Coon, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Laurence Heath, and Fred Freiberger. Both Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were produced by Desilu Productions and later Paramount Television, which also now owns the rights to Have Gun – Will Travel through its successor company, CBS Television Distribution.

Franchise in other media

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Radio show

The Have Gun – Will Travel radio show broadcast 106 episodes on the CBS Radio Network between November 23, 1958, and November 27, 1960. It was one of the last radio dramas featuring continuing characters and the only significant American radio adaptation of a television series. John Dehner (a regular on the radio series version of Gunsmoke) played Paladin, and Ben Wright usually (but not always) played Hey Boy. Virginia Gregg played Miss Wong, Hey Boy's girlfriend, before the television series featured the character of Hey Girl. Unlike the small-screen version, in this medium there was usually a tag scene at the Carlton at both the beginning and the end of the episode. Initially, the episodes were adaptations of the television program as broadcast earlier the same week, but eventually original stories were produced, including a finale (a.k.a. "From Here to Boston", "Inheritance", and "Goodbye, Paladin") in which Paladin leaves San Francisco, perhaps forever, to claim an inheritance back east. The radio version was written by producer/writer Roy Winsor.


There were three novels based on the television show, all with the title of the show. The first was a hardback written for children, published by Whitman in 1959 in a series of novelizations of television shows. It was written by Barlow Meyers and illustrated by Nichols S. Firfires. The second was a 1960 paperback original, written for adults by Noel Loomis. The last book, A Man Called Paladin, written by Frank C. Robertson and published in 1963 by Collier-Macmillan in hardback and paperback, is based on the television episode "Genesis" by Frank Rolfe.

This novel is the only source wherein a name is given to the Paladin character, Clay Alexander, but fans of the series do not consider this name canonical. Dell Comics published a number of comic books with original stories based on the television series. In 2000, Martin Grams, Jr. and Les Rayburn self-published the 500-page trade paperback, The Have Gun – Will Travel Companion, documenting the history of the radio and television series.


In 1997, it was announced that a movie version of the television series would be made. John Travolta was named as a possible star in the Warner Bros. production, which was scripted by Larry Ferguson and to be directed by The Fugitive director Andrew Davis. However, the film was never made.

In 2006, it was announced that a Have Gun – Will Travel movie starring rapper Eminem is in production. However, the film does not hold an official confirmed release date. Paramount Pictures extended an 18-month option on the television series and planned to transform the character of Paladin into a modern-day bounty hunter. Eminem was expected to work on the soundtrack.

Television reboot

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In August 2012, it was announced in several venues that David Mamet was developing a reboot of the television series for CBS.

In other television series

In the television series Maverick, season 2, episode 16, "Gun Shy", Marshal Mort Dooley, the marshal of Elwood, Kansas, comments that a lot of strange people have been passing through his town lately, specifically referring to "that gunslinger who handed out business cards."

Home media

All of the episodes were released on VHS by Columbia House. CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) has released all six seasons of Have Gun – Will Travel on DVD in Region 1. Season 6, Volumes 1 & 2 were first released on May 7, 2013.

On May 10, 2016, CBS DVD was to release Have Gun–Will Travel—The Complete series on DVD in Region 1.

In the second-season DVD, two episodes are mislabeled. On disk three, the episode titled "Treasure Trail" is actually "Hunt the Man Down", and on disk four, "Hunt the Man Down" is "Treasure Trail"; the "Wire Paladin" in each case refers to the other episode.

DVD nameEp #Release date
Season 139May 11, 2004
Season 239May 10, 2005
Season 339January 3, 2006
Season 4- Volume 119March 2, 2010
Season 4- Volume 219July 6, 2010
Season 5- Volume 119November 30, 2010
Season 5- Volume 219February 22, 2011
Season 6- Volume 116May 7, 2013
Season 6- Volume 216May 7, 2013
Complete Series225May 10, 2016

Cultural influences

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  • Boon was a hit British Drama series and was heavily influenced by Have Gun – Will Travel. The series followed the adventures an ex-fireman who was invalided out of the service and became a 'modern-day hero'. Of Have Gun – Will Travel's influence, co-creator Jim Hill said: "Boon had been derived from an American TV series from the 1950s that Bill Stair and I both watched and liked. It was called Have Gun – Will Travel — a troubleshooting cowboy answered distress calls. He was called Paladin and was played by the actor Richard Boone. We dropped the E and we had BOON — a modern-day trouble shooter on a motorbike instead of a steed." Boon ran from 1986 to 1992, with a special one-off episode in 1995.
  • Have Space Suit – Will Travel (1958) is a "space opera" novel by Robert A. Heinlein. The narrator is called to space to do the typical hero's job of defending humanity and saving the earth.
  • Have 'Twangy' Guitar Will Travel (1958) is an album by guitarist Duane Eddy.
  • Have Guitar Will Travel (1960) is an album by guitarist and vocalist Bo Diddley.
  • Have Guitar, Will Travel (2009) is an album by guitarist Joe Perry. The accompanying tour also used the name.
  • "Have Love, Will Travel" is a song written and recorded in 1959 by Richard Berry.
  • In a scene in Stand By Me, the main characters sing the show's closing theme song as a way of evoking that film's era (it is set in late 1959); songwriter Johnny Western successfully sued the producers for not securing his permission beforehand. This scene is spoofed in the "Stand by Me" segment of the Family Guy episode "Three Kings".
  • The Tom and Jerry cartoon Tall in the Trap (1962, directed by Gene Deitch) was a parody of Have Gun – Will Travel.
  • A feature of Frank Zappa's 1970 tour's performances was the "Paladin Routine", a brief improvised comedy sketch based on the Have Gun – Will Travel characters, culminating in a vocalization of the music from the series' opening-credit sequence. One such performance is documented on the bootleg album Freaks & Motherfu*#@%! (later released as part of Beat the Boots).
  • In the third season, episode 3 of Downton Abbey, aired January 6, 2013, in what appears to be an anachronism, the character Lady Cora tells her husband, "I'm American: have gun, will travel." But the general phrase "Have X will travel" does date back to the show's time period.
  • "Have Time, Will Travel", an episode of The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald.
  • Got Dust, Will Travel, a mission from Saints Row 2
  • Have Mask, Will Travel, the title of the second part of the Mask/Ace Ventura crossover and the final episode of the latter's second season.
  • In the 1972–74 series Hec Ramsey, set in New Prospect, Oklahoma in 1901, Boone is an older former gunfighter turned forensic criminologist. At one point Ramsey denies that, in his younger days as a gunfighter, he worked under the name Paladin. The origin of this myth is Boone's remark in an interview, "Hec Ramsey is Paladin—only fatter." Naturally, he merely meant the characters had certain similarities: Ramsey, for his part, was practically buffoonish, imparting a measure of humor to Hec Ramsey missing from the sterner, more erudite Paladin.
  • In the two-part 1991 TV mini-series The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw, a poker game is played by the rules of "the late Mr. Paladin" in the Carlton Hotel where Paladin usually stayed.
  • In the 1985 Star Trek novel Ishmael by Barbara Hambly, in which the Enterprise travels back in time, Spock plays chess against Paladin during a visit to San Francisco.
  • In the 2013 fan created series Star Trek Continues episode "Pilgrim of Eternity", Visual Effects Artist Doug Drexler played the part of Paladin in a Holodeck creation. Drexler cited the special specifications of Paladin's revolver to an impressed Captain Kirk (Vic Mignogna).
  • As a homage to Boone's character, in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, the Paladin features an archetype named "Holy Gun", whose abilities are succinctly described as "Have Gun".
  • The 2019 video game The Outer Worlds has a side quest titled "Makes Space Suits, Won't Travel" about a fashion designer in a space colony who sends the protagonist out on errands for her.

Legal battle

In 1974, a rodeo performer named Victor De Costa won a federal court judgment against CBS for trademark infringement, successfully arguing that he had created the Paladin character and the ideas used in the show, and that CBS had used them without permission. For example, at his rodeo appearances he always dressed in black, he called himself the "Paladin", he handed out hundreds of business cards with a chess piece logo and the phrase "Have gun will travel", and he carried a concealed derringer. A year later, an appellate court overturned the lower court ruling on the basis that the plaintiff had failed to prove that there had been likelihood of confusion in the minds of the public—a necessary requirement for a suit over trademark infringement. However, De Costa kept pursuing his legal options, and in 1991—more than 30 years after his first lawsuit was originally filed—he was awarded more than US $3 million. De Costa died at the age of 83 before he could receive the award.

In 1991, on the basis of De Costa's established claims, a Rhode Island federal judge blocked the redistribution of the Paladin show by Viacom.