Legends & Legacies View More

Have Gun, Will Travel

Published: 7/9/2013

Twenty years after the death of its creator, we look back at an iconic TV Western.

"Have Gun – Will Travel" reads the card of a man…

The year was 1957, and tales of the American West were nearing a fever pitch of popularity. Seeing the public's hunger for the Wild West, screenwriter Sam Rolfe created a new hero: Paladin. The gentlemanly mercenary was as well-versed in classic literature as he was adept with a gun – and his refined sensibilities made him a little different from the other rough-and-ready Western heroes of the day. The distinction helped propel Have Gun – Will Travel to the top of the Nielsen ratings.

A knight without armor in a savage land…

Have Gun Will Travel

Mentioned in the show's theme song and shown in every episode, the gunfighter's business card featured a chess piece – a knight – and directed those in need to simply "Wire Paladin – San Francisco." Once he received a call for help, he'd change into his all-black cowboy outfit and work to make things right. For those who could afford it, Paladin charged an exorbitant sum for his services. For those who could not, he might waive his fee – all part of his chivalrous code of honor.

His fast gun for hire heeds the calling wind…

The TV show became so popular that it spawned a radio version, a reversal of the more-common radio to television path. Starring Richard Boone as Paladin (John Dehner voiced the lead in the radio version), the TV show also brought in notable guest stars like June Lockhart, Charles Bronson, Denver Pyle, Werner Klemperer, Robert Blake and others.

A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin…

Sam Rolfe, the creator of Have Gun – Will Travel, died 20 years ago today. With the iconic show, he helped define the Wild West archetype that still endures today – and he gave early jobs to future writing stars like Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek; Bruce Geller, creator of Mission: Impossible; and Harry Julian Fink, writer of Dirty Harry. Sam Rolfe also co-wrote the show's theme song, an enduring earworm that's surely stuck your head thanks to our little story.

Paladin, Paladin, where do you roam?
Paladin, Paladin, far, far from home.

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