[April 8, 2019] When I was 5 (or maybe 6) years old, my parents gave me a toy pistol and holster set based on the television series Have Gun – Will Travel. Richard Boone starred as an Old West professional gunfighter called Paladin, in this series that ran from 1957 to 1963. I watched it with my family every Saturday on CBS and remember how this man was able to search for the truth and reaffirm honor as a valid, necessary trait of a real man.
“A knight without armor in a strange land.” from the theme song1
Rarely do movies adequately capture the traits we find in leaders. Today’s movies are more about the special effects (these are really great) than on the plot (who cares when you have action?). Paladin is presented to us as an intellectual, dapper, ladies-man gun-fighter in this macho Western series. On the surface, Paladin was just a high-priced gun-for-hire but in reality, he was a troubleshooter and private lawman-for-hire.
The show’s plot often revolved around Paladin being hired out by some shady character. Paladin would change into his black work clothes and go on the road into some risky situation. A favorite of many fans of the show had him trying to figure out where the truth lies because his employer would shade the truth for various reasons. Then, our knight-without-armor would have to rely on instinct and a sense of honor to resolve the situation.
As a private detective, Paladin was an imperfect man. He’d been a West Point-educated Union officer during the U.S. Civil War; literate with a taste for fine food, clothing, and the theater. His “headquarters” was in the ritzy Hotel Carlton in San Francisco. His calling card featured a picture of the white knight in chess (a paladin is a knight renowned for his heroism and chivalry).
The character Paladin has a strong sense of ethics that demonstrated he was no mere assassin. A man of morals and conscience, he would at least try to settle a dispute without violence whenever possible. Occasionally he would have to turn on his clients because they were wrong to have hired him to do something morally wrong.
Of course, eventually, he often had to shoot someone. Besides, it was a television show and the scene was in the Wild West. My toy pistol and holster are lost in time but I’ll never forget handing out the Paladin calling card to my friends. I was proud to be like someone who was ethical and heroic; a real man.