Have Gun – Will Travel is an American Western television series that aired on CBS from 1957 through 1963. It was rated number three or number four in the Nielsen ratings every year of its first four seasons. It was one of the few television shows to spawn a successful radio version. The radio series debuted November 23, 1958.
This series follows the adventures of a man calling himself "Paladin," a gentleman gunfighter (played by Richard Boone on television and voiced by John Dehner on radio). He prefers to settle without violence the difficulties brought his way by clients who pay him. When forced, he excels in fisticuffs and, under his real name, was a duelling champion of some renown.
Have Gun – Will Travel was created by Sam Rolfe and Herb Meadow.
The title was a catchphrase used in personal advertisements in newspapers like The Times, indicating that the advertiser was ready for anything. It was used this way from the early 20th century. A form common in theatrical advertising was "Have tux, will travel," and CBS claimed this was the inspiration for the writer Herb Meadow. The television show popularized the phrase in the 1960s, and many variations were used as titles for other works such as Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert Heinlein.
Paladin is a mercenary, a soldier of fortune, accepting commissions from people who seek to engage his services. He is not above scanning newspaper headlines to offer his services to people whose troubles find their way into print. In the parlance of chivalry, since Paladin is not attached to the service of any one liege lord, his is "a free lance." He makes it clear that his time is all his clients hire for their particular jobs.
A "paladin" is a knight, a paragon of chivalry; a heroic champion of a cause: "like Charlemagne's fabled Roland," as the Honourable Diana Coulter (Patricia Medina) notes in "The Lady". Using this nom-de-guerre Paladin makes clear that he is motivated by a code of chivalry to act justly in a just cause. He exhibits a passion for justice as well as for the rule of law, which means that he is constantly forced to differentiate between the two concepts.
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 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 ("Goodbye, Paladin") in which Paladin leaves San Francisco, apparently forever, to claim an inheritance back east. The radio version was written by producer/writer Roy Winsor.
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, and Harry Julian Fink is one of the writers who created Dirty Harry (the opening title and theme scene of the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force would feature the same Paladin-like sequence of a handgun being slowly cocked and then finally pointed toward the camera, with a line of dialogue). Sam Peckinpah wrote one episode, which aired in 1958. 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.
This photo shows radio's Paladin, John Dehner, with TV's Paladin, Richard Boone.