Thursday, 21 September 2017

The TV Show Perry Mason Turns 60

"Who can we get on this case?
We need Perry Mason
Someone to put you in place
Calling Perry Mason again."
(Ozzy Osbourne,  John R W Purdell, Zakk Wylde, "Perry Mason")

It was sixty years ago today, on September 21 1957, that the TV show Perry Mason debuted on CBS. Perry Mason was historic not only for bringing the character to the small screen, but also as the first hour long crime drama to air on American television. Starring Raymond Burr as the defence attorney of the title, it would prove to be an enormous success. The show lasted for nine seasons and ranked in the top twenty shows each year for much of its run. When it ended its run in 1966, Perry Mason went onto highly successful run in syndication that lasts to this day.

Perry Mason starred Raymond Burr as the title character, a criminal defence lawyer who defends those who are wrongly accused of crime. He was assisted by his highly capable secretary Della Street (played by Barbara Hale) and detective Paul Drake (played by William Hopper). He usually found himself at odds with homicide detective Lt. Arthur Tragg (played by Ray Collins), who was always arresting the wrong person for murder. In court he usually faced district attorney Hamilton Burger (played by William Talman).  The show definitely had a formula that it used in most of its episodes. A murder would occur, after which both the police and Perry Mason would investigate. The final part of the episode would be set in the courtroom, where Perry Mason would eventually reveal the actual culprit.

Of course, the character of Perry Mason was hardly new when the TV series debuted in 1957. Perry Mason first appeared in the novel The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner in 1933.  He would go onto appear in 81 more novels. The final one, The Case of the Postponed Murder, was published not long after Erle Stanely Gardner's death. Perry Mason also appeared in four short stories also by Erle Stanley Gardner. The series of "Perry Mason" novels proved very successful. To this day it is the third highest selling book series of all time, third only to the "Harry Potter" and "Goosebumps" series.

The success of the "Perry Mason" novels would guarantee that the series would be adapted to other media. Six "Perry Mason" movies were released by Warner Bros. in the Thirties. The first few starred Warren William as Perry and various actresses as his faithful secretary Della Street. The penultimate "Perry Mason" movie starred Ricardo Cortez as the attorney and the last one starred Donald Woods in the role. The movies departed a good deal from the novels and are not highly regarded by "Perry Mason" fans today.

Fortunately, the fact that the movies were largely unfaithful to the "Perry Mason" novels did not hurt the character's success in other media. In 1943 the highly success radio show Perry Mason debuted on CBS radio. Various actors portrayed Perry Mason, his secretary Della Street, his friend and the detective he often employed Paul Drake, and his usual antagonist on the police force Lt. Tragg over the years. The radio show was 15 minutes long and ran every weekday. The radio show Perry Mason had a semi-serial format and often emphasised action over courtroom theatrics. Unlike the novels and the later TV show, it was not unusual for Perry to engage in gunfights with criminals. Regardless, it proved very successful, running until 1955. Over the years there have also been "Perry Mason" comic books and even a short-lived newspaper comic strip that ran from 1950 to 1952.

While the radio show had been fairly successful, a TV show based on the "Perry Mason" novels would be some time in coming. Erle Stanley Gardner had been disappointed in Warner Bros.' movies from the Thirties and was loathe to license the character without some guarantee of creative control. CBS Television had wanted to bring the "Perry Mason" radio show to television. in the early to mid-Fifties. Like the radio show, this version of Perry Mason would have aired weekdays and would have had a serialised format. Unfortunately, CBS insisted that Perry Mason have a love interest, something which Erle Stanely Gardner baulked at. Negotiations between CBS and Erle Stanley Gardner then broke down. This did not mean that all of the work done on the proposed TV show would go to waste. Irving Vendig, who had been a writer on the radio show, retooled the idea and turned it into The Edge of Night. Essentially a daily mystery serial (as opposed to a soap opera), The Edge of Night debuted in 1956 and ran until 1984.

As to how Perry Mason would eventually come to television, that was due to Gail Patrick Jackson. If the name "Gail Patrick" sounds familiar, it is because she had one been an actress who had appeared in such films as Death Takes a Holiday (1934),  My Man Godfrey (1936), Stage Door (1937), and My Favourite Wife (1940).  Gail Patrick Jackson's husband, Cornwell Jackson, was an advertising executive and for many years had been Earl Stanley Gardner's literary agent. Gail Patrick Jackson would sometimes talk to Erle Stanley Gardner about what he would want a Perry Mason TV show to look like and how much creative control he would want. Eventually Earle Stanley Gardner, Gail Patrick Jackson, and Cornwell Jackson decided to go forward with a Perry Mason TV series and formed a production company, Paisano Productions, for that purpose. Gail Patrick Jackson was president of Paisano Productions and would serve as executive producer on Perry Mason for much of its run.

Initially CBS had wanted Perry Mason to be a live hour long drama, something that Gail Patrick Jackson knew to be impossible. Fortunately CBS reconsidered this idea, as they had learned the value of reruns through the success of I Love Lucy. Regardless, Paisano Productions had to finance the pilot. Ultimately CBS announced the new series Perry Mason in February 1956 and that it would debut that fall. As it turned out, casting Perry Mason proved to be difficult so that the show ultimately would not debut until 1957. For the series CBS purchased the rights to 272 stories by Erle Stanley Gardner, many of which featured Perry Mason.

Several actors were considered for the all-important role of Perry Mason, including t. Richard Carlson, Mike Connors, Richard Egan, William Holden, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. In April 1956 it was reported that CBS was in negotiations with Fred MacMurray to play the role. Among the actors to try out for Perry Mason was Hedda Hopper's son William Hopper. While he did not get the part of Perry Mason, he was cast as detective Paul Drake. Of course, Raymond Burr was also among the actors to try out for the role of Perry Mason. Gail Patrick Jackson had admired his role as an attorney in the movie A Place in the Sun (1951), but thought he was too heavy for the role. Mr. Burr went on a crash diet and was ultimately cast as Perry Mason.

The other roles on the show were somewhat easier to cast than Perry Mason. Barbara Hale was already an established film star with a high successful career. That having been said, by 1956 she was a mother with young children and wanted to avoid being away from them on long movie shoots. She asked about the role of Della Street and was cast in the role. Gail Patrick Jackson had seen William Talman in Ida Lupino's film The Hitch-Hiker and was impressed with his performance. He was cast as district attorney Hamilton Burger. Ray Collins, a character actor with along career that included work with Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre, was cast as Lt. Arthur Tragg.

For a long running show Perry Mason would see very few changes in its cast over the years, although amazingly enough Raymond Burr would be largely absent for some episodes. During the 1962-1963 season Mr. Burr went into the hospital for "minor corrective surgery". His place in four episodes during that season was then taken by big name guest stars playing other attorneys, including Bette Davis (in "The Case of Constant Doyle"), Michael Rennie ("The Case of the Libellous Locket"), Hugh O'Brian ("The Case of the Two-Faced Turn-a-bout"), and Walter Pidgeon ("The Case of the Surplus Suitor"). Raymond would miss two more episodes during the show's run:  "The Case of the Bullied Bowler" (where his place was taken by Mike Connors) and  "The Case of the Thermal Thief" (where his place was taken by Barry Sullivan) during the 1964-1965 season. The four episodes Raymond Burr missed during the four season would not be included in the show's syndication package until TBS bought the rights to air them in the mid-Eighties. They have been seen as part of the syndication run of Perry Mason ever since.

William Talman as Hamilton Burger would also miss several episodes, including most of the first half of the show's fourth season. On  March 13 1960 sheriff's deputies raided a private home at which William Talman was present on suspicion of marijuana possession. Everyone was arrested for possessing pot (charges which were later dropped) and were also charged with lewd vagrancy. The municipal judge would also drop the charges of lewd vagrancy for lack of proof. While William Talman had essentially been cleared of any crime, CBS still fired him, although they never gave a reason. A massive letter writing campaign by Perry Mason fans gave Gail Patrick Jackson just what she needed to convince CBS to rehire Mr. Talman.

Another change in the cast would result because of Ray Collins's declining health. Once able to memorise entire scripts with ease, by 1960 Mr. Collins found he had difficulty remembering his lines. Eventually his health declined to the point that he could no longer continue with the series. He last appeared as Lt. Tragg in the January 16 1964 episode, "The Case of the Capering Camera." He died on  July 11 1965 from emphysema. Although he was no longer on the show, as executive producer Gail Patrick Jackson insisted that his name continue to be listed on the show's credits until his death. Wesley Lau as Lieutenant Andy Anderson took Ray Collins's place during the 1963-1964 season. When Wesley Lau left the show at the end of its eighth season, he was replaced by Richard Anderson as Lt. Steve Drumm.

Perry Mason spent its first seasons on Saturday night, where it consistently ranked in the top twenty shows for the year except for its first season. The show reached its peak in the ratings in its fifth season, when it ranked no. 5 for the season. Strangely enough given its high ratings, CBS moved Perry Mason to Thursday night in its sixth season. It remained there until its ninth and final season, when it was moved to Sunday night.

Like the vast majority of shows from the Fifties, Perry Mason was shot in black and white. It would continue to be shot in black and white for the entirety of its run with the exception of one episode. In its final season   "The Case of the Twice-Told Twist" was shot in colour primarily because the head of CBS, William Paley, wanted to see what the show would look like in colour. The final episode, "The Case of the Final Fade-Out", featured many members of the Perry Mason crew in cameos, as well as Perry Mason's creator Erle Stanley Gardner as a judge.

Perry Mason ended its run in 1966, only to begin one of the most successful runs in syndication of all time. It aired on many local stations for literally years. KPTV in Portland, Orgeon picked up reruns of Perry Mason in 1966 (the first year they were available) and continued to air the show until 2012, a full 42 years. The show has since aired on such cable channels as TBS, TV Land,  and  Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, among others. It has aired on the classic television broadcast network ME-TV for literally years.

The continued success of Perry Mason in syndication led CBS to attempt a reboot of the show during the 1973-1974 season. The New Perry Mason starred Monte Markham as the crime solving lawyer, and debuted only seven years after the original series had left the air. It lasted only fifteen episodes. While The New Perry Mason failed, Raymond Burr would once more see success in the role. The continued success of Perry Mason in syndication led to the 1985 reunion movie Perry Mason Returns (although personally I think The Case of Perry Mason's Return would have been a better title), starring Raymond Burr as Perry Mason and Barbara Hale as Della Street. He would appear in 26 more television movies until his death in 1993. Following Raymond Burr's death there would be four more movies, each without the character of Perry Mason, that aired under the heading A Perry Mason Mystery. Barbara Hale appeared in each of these films as Della Street.

In addition to a highly successful syndication run, the entire run of Perry Mason is available on DVD. IT has also been available on various streaming services, including Netflix. It is currently available on CBS's own streaming service, CBS All Access and the first two seasons are available on the network's website.

Perry Mason would have an impact on popular culture even while it was first airing. In the 1961 Jack Benny Program episode "Jack On Trial for Murder", Raymond Burr appears as Perry Mason in a dream that Jack has. The show has also been parodied in everything from Mad to The Flintstones. A song about the famous defence attorney, "Perry Mason", appeared on Ozzy Osbourne's 1995 album Ozzmosis and was also released as a single. Perry Mason would even produce at least one imitator on television. Matlock starred Andy Griffith as Ben Matlock, a Southern lawyer who, much like Perry, defends people falsely accused of murder.

Perry Mason would even have an impact on the United States' judicial system. "Perry Mason syndrome" is a term used for the way in which jurors who have watched the programme perceive criminal trials. Quite simply, they expect one attorney or the other at some point to come out with a big revelation, much as Perry did on the show. The term first entered usage in the Sixties, when Perry Mason  was still on the air.

Perry Mason was the first hour long crime drama. It was also the first hour legal drama. Between its original run and its syndication run, it seems likely it is the most successful legal drama of all time. Perry Mason first aired sixty years ago and it seems quite likely people will still be watching it sixty years ago.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style by Cindy De La Hoz

Today is the birthday of Sophia Loren, screen legend and quite possibly the most famous Italian movie star internationally. Running Press in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies recently came out with a new book about her. Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style by Cindy De La Hoz is a must read book for any fan of the actress.

It is also in many respects a rather singular book. The first half is a biography of Sophia Loren. The second half is perhaps the most complete filmography of the legendary star I have ever seen. Both the biography and the filmography are very well done. The biography traces Miss Loren's life from her beginnings in poverty in Naples to her rise as a star in Italy to her success as a truly international star. The filmography is very extensive and includes Sophia Loren's early films made in Italy that often go ignored in American filmographies of the star. While the filmography does not offer in-depth analyses of Miss Loren's films, it more than makes up for this in the fact that it is so complete. I am sure that all but the most absolutely avid fans of Sophia Loren will learn something about her early work, much of which still isn't available in the United States.

Of course, one of the most wonderful things about Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style is the sheer number of photos in the book. What is more, I am sure many of the photos are ones that most Americans have never seen before. They range from a photo taken of young Sophia when she was nine years old for her first communion to photos taken only a few years ago. What is more, the pictures range from photos from Sophia's private life to publicity photos to photos from movie shoots.

Ultimately, Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style is a wonderful tribute to one of the screen's greatest international stars. It would also serve as a good introduction to Sophia Loren for anyone wishing to learn more about the star. I believe that whether one is relatively new to classic film or a fan of classic film for many years, he or she will enjoy Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style immensely.

(I want to thank Running Press for giving me the opportunity to review this book.)

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Godspeed Frank Vincent

Frank Vincent, who appeared in the film Goodfellas (1990) and the TV show The Sopranos, died on September 12 2017 at the age of 80. The cause was complications from heart surgery following a heart attack.

Frank Vincent was born Frank Vincent Gattuso Jr on April 15 1937 in North Adams, Massachusetts. He grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey. He worked as a drummer playing in nightclubs. He also played drums on records by Paul Anka and Trini Lopez.

He made his film debut in 1976 in The Death Collector. Martin Scorsese was impressed by his performance in the film and as a result he was cast in Raging Bull (1980). In the Eighties Mr. Vincent appeared in such films as Dear Mr. Wonderful (1982), Baby It's You (1983), The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984), Stiffs (1985), Wise Guys (1986), Lou, Pat & Joe D (1988), Do the Right Thing (1989), Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) and Goodfellas (1990). He guest starred on the TV show The Paradise Club.

In the Nineties Frank Vincent appeared in the films Jungle Fever (1991), Men Lie (1994), Federal Hill (1994), Animal Room (1995), Casino (1995), She's the One (1996), Made Men (1997), The Deli (1997), Entropy (1999), and The Crew (2000). He guest starred on such shows as Civil Wars; The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles; Walker, Texas Ranger; Cosby; New York Undercover; Law & Order; and NYPD Blue.

In the Naughts he appeared in such films as Snipes (2001), A Tale of Two Pizzas (2003), Coalition (2004), The Last Request (2006), and The Tested (2010). He provided a voice for the animated film Shark Tale (2010). On television he played Phil Leotardo on the show The Sopranos. He guest starred on Stargate: Atlantis. He provided the voice of mob boss Salvatore Leone in the series of video games Grand Theft Auto.

In the Teens he guest starred on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit He provided a voice on the animated show Mr. Pickles. He appeared in the film Spy (2011).

Throughout his career Frank Vincent played mobsters. And there can be no doubt that he was very good at playing mobsters. There should be little wonder that his best known roles are from Goodfellas and The Sopranos. That having been said, he could play other roles as well. He played a Catholic bishop in an episode of Law & Order: SVU. It wasn't the first time he played a man of the cloth either. He was Father Brice in the comedy The Last Request. In Jungle Fever he played a father who has mixed feelings (to put it mildly) about his daughter's interracial romance. Frank Vincent was certainly good at playing mobsters, but he had the talent to play other roles as well.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Late Great Harry Dean Stanton

Character actor Harry Dean Stanton died on September 15 2017 at the age of 91.

Harry Dean Stanton was born on July 14 1926 in West Irvine, Kentucky. During World War II he served in the United States Navy in the Pacific Theatre. After the war he attended the University of Kentucky. He dropped out of college after three years and moved to Los Angeles, California. In California he studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Harry Dean Stanton made his television debut in an episode of Inner Sanctum in 1954. He made his motion picture debut in an uncredited role in Revolt at Fort Laramie in 1956. During the Fifties he appeared in the films The Wrong Man (1956), Tomahawk Trail (1957), The Proud Rebel (1958), Voice in the Mirror (1958), Pork Chop Hill (1959), The Jayhawkers! (1959), and A Dog's Best Friend (1959). In the Sixties he guest starred on such TV shows as Suspicion, Panic!, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Man with a Camera, Disneyland, Bat Masterson, The Rifleman, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, The Man from Blackhawk, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

In the Sixties Harry Dean Stanton appeared a good deal on television. He guest starred on such shows as The Roaring 20s, Zane Gray Theatre, The Untouchables, The Lawless Years, Have Gun--Will Travel, Combat!, Laramie, Bonanza, Rawhide, The Fugitive, The Big Valley, The Wild Wild West, The Andy Griffith Show, The Virginian, The High Chaparral, Mannix, Gunsmoke, Daniel Boone, Adam-12, and Petticoat Junction. He appeared in the films Hero's Island (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), The Man from the Diners' Club (1963), Ride in the Whirlwind (1966), In the Heat of the Night (1967), A Time for Killing (1967), The Hostage (1967), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Day of the Evil Gun (1968), The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968), The Rebel Rousers (1970), and Kelly's Heroes (1970).  As the Sixties progressed the size of Mr. Stanton's roles grew larger. He played the lead role in the short "Lanton Mills" (1969).

Harry Dean Stanton continued to get larger roles in the Seventies, and his career shifted from television to film. He appeared in such films as Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), Cisco Pike (1972), Cry for Me, Billy (1972), Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973), Dillinger (1973), Where the Lilies Bloom (1974), Zandy's Bride (1974),  The Godfather: Part II (1974), Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins (1975), Rancho Deluxe (1975), Farewell, My Lovely (1975), The Missouri Breaks (1976), Wise Blood (1979), Alien (1979), The Rose (1979), Death Watch (1980), and Private Benjamin (1980). On television he had a recurring role on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and guest starred on Young Maverick.

The Eighties saw Harry Dean Stanton go from supporting roles in films to more central roles, including the occasional lead. He played the lead in the cult classic Repo Man (1984) and the same year played the lead in the classic Paris, Texas (1984). He also appeared in the films Escape from New York (1981), One from the Heart (1981), Young Doctors in Love (1982), Christine (1983), The Bear (1984), Red Dawn (1984), UFOria (1985), One Magic Christmas (1985), Fool for Love (1985), Pretty in Pink (1986), Slam Dance (1987), Stars and Bars (1988), Mr. North (1988), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Dream a Little Dream (1989), Twister (1989), Stranger in the House (1990), The Fourth War (1990), and Wild at Heart (1990). On television he guest starred on Laverne & Shirley, Faerie Tale Theatre, The French as Seen By (1988), The Jim Henson Hour, and Beyond the Groove.

In the Nineties Mr. Stanton appeared in the films Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Man Trouble (1992), Cruise Control (1992), Gentleman Who Fell (1993), Blue Tiger (1994), One Hundred and One Nights (1995), Never Talk to Strangers (1995), Nothing to Believe In (1996), Playback (1996), Down Periscope (1996), Midnight Blue (1997), She's So Lovely (1997), Fire Down Below (1997), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), The Mighty (1998), Ballad of the Nightingale (1999), The Straight Story (1999), The Green Mile (1999), and The Man Who Cried (2000). On television he guest starred on the show Hotel Room and appeared in the mini-series Dead Man's Walk.

In the Naughts Harry Dean Stanton appeared in the films The Pledge (2001), The Animal (2001), Sonny (2002), Ginostra (2002), Anger Management (2003), Chrystal (2004), The Big Bounce (2004), The Wendell Baker Story (2005), Alpha Dog (2006), Alien Autopsy (2006), You, Me and Dupree (2006), Inland Empire (2006), The Good Life (2007), Open Road (2009), On Holiday (2010), and Athena (2010). On television he was the star of the show Big Love. He guest starred on Two and a Half Men as himself, and also guest starred on Chuck.

In the Teens Mr. Stanton was the voice of Balthazar in the animated film Rango (2011). He appeared in the films This Must Be the Place (2011), Marvel's The Avengers (2012), Seven Psychopaths (2012), The Last Stand (2013), 9 Full Moons (2013), Carlos Spills the Beans (2013), The Pimp and the Rose (2014), Sick of it All (2017), and Lucky (2017). On television he guest starred on Getting On. He reprised his role as Carl Rodd from the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in the revival of Twin Peaks.

I was aware of Harry Dean Stanton before he attained fame in the Eighties, although into the late Sixties he was usually billed as "Dean Stanton" in order to avoid confusion with Harry Stanton (the actor who played Dr. Zenta in When Worlds Collide). He was a frequent guest star on many of the reruns I watched as a child and he could play nearly anything. He could play a hillbilly in the midst of a feud, as was the case with the Gunsmoke episode "Love Thy Neighbour". On The Lawless Years he played a mob hitman. On Adam-12 he was an abusive husband. Over the years he appeared on many TV Westerns, appearing eight times on Gunsmoke, four times on Rawhide, and twice on Bonanza alone.

The variety of roles Mr. Stanton played were also seen in his film career. Even his best known roles were a varied lot. He was the engineering technician Brett in Alien. In Escape from New York he played Brain, a genius and the advisor to the Duke. In Repo Man he played Bud, the "repo man" of the title. Perhaps the best role of his career was in Paris, Texas, in which he played an amnesiac drifter attempting to rebuild his life. Harry Dean Stanton was an extremely talented actor who could play a wide variety of roles and play all of them well. Over the years he played cowboys, military officers, preachers, doctors, and police officers. Even when he was young he had a bit of a weather beaten look that would have kept him from playing romantic leads, but was perfect for various character roles. Harry Dean Stanton was a prolific actor who continued acting until his death. His career spanned over sixty years. If he was always in demand, it was perhaps because he was just that talented.

Friday, 15 September 2017

My Margaret Lockwood Blog Posts

Margaret Lockwood is one of my all time favourite actresses. Because of that I have written several posts about her here at A Shroud of Thoughts and even a guest post on the Margaret Lockwood Society's blog. Since today would have been her 101st birthday, I thought it might be a good idea to collect all of them here for you in one place. Below are links to the various blog posts I have written about Margaret Lockwood over the years.

"A Game of Love and Death: Margaret Lockwood and The Lady Vanishes (1938)"

"Justice Starring Margaret Lockwood"

"Bank Holiday (1938)"

"The Slipper and the Rose Guest Post on The Margaret Lockwood Society's Blog"

"Margaret Lockwood and Googie Withers: Two Great British Actresses"

"The Wicked Lady: The British Film Censored by Americans and How It Changed the English Language"

"Jassy (1947)"

"The 70th Anniversary of The Wicked Lady (1945)"

"The Centenary of Margaret Lockwood's Birth"

"The Man in Grey (1943)"

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The 60th Anniversary of Have Gun--Will Travel

Sixty years ago today a Western debuted on television that would be unlike any that has debuted before or since. It was a sophisticated and intellectual Western, to the point that in some ways it had more in common with the anthology shows that had proliferated only a few years before it than it did its fellow Westerns airing at the time. Its hero could handle a gun, but he was not a lawman or gunslinger, and he preferred to use his gun only when he absolutely had to. It was on September 14 1957 that Have Gun--Will Travel debuted.

Have Gun--Will Travel centred on the man known only as Paladin (played by Richard Boone). On the surface Paladin appeared to be little more than a playboy with a taste for the finer things in life. He made the luxurious Hotel Carlton in San Francisco his home. He wore only the latest fashions and had a keen appreciation for a good cigar, a well prepared meal, fine brandy, and beautiful women. Paladin was equally adept at both cards and chess. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of art, music, poetry, and literature.

Despite this Paladin was no idle man of leisure. He was also a high priced gun for hire, who advertised his services with a card that read, "Have gun--will travel. Wire Paladin, San Francisco" and bore the logo of the white chess knight. Paladin was no mere assassin, however, but a man with his own personal code of honour. If Paladin learned that an employer's motives were less than noble, he would see to it that his former employer was brought to justice. On occasion Paladin would even forgo payment for his services to see that justice was served. While on a case Paladin looked very different from the playboy he appeared to be at the Hotel Carlton. He dressed entirely in black and wielded a long barrelled, hair trigger Colt .44. It is little wonder that his opponents, upon seeing Paladin, believed the Angel of Death had come for them.

Throughout the series Paladin remained a mystery, with very little revealed about his past. He was born to wealth and graduated from West Point. During the Civil War he served in the Union cavalry. At no point was his given name ever revealed. Paladin had been given his nom de guerre by a man named Smoke, whom an evil land baron had led Paladin to believe was a vile outlaw. Needless to say, when the newly dubbed Paladin learned the truth, he went after the evil land baron (this was related in the sixth season episode "Genesis").

Throughout the entire run of the show there were only two other recurring characters. For most of the show's run Kam Tong played the Hotel Carlton's bell hop Hey Boy. During the fourth season Kam Tong was working on the TV show Mr. Garland, so his place was taken by Lisa Lu as Hey Girl (explained to be Hey Boy's sister). Kam Tong returned as Hey Boy the following season, Mr. Garland having been cancelled.

Have Gun--Will Travel was developed by Sam Rolfe (who would later develop The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and Herb Meadows (who would later create The Big Valley). Originally Paladin was conceived as private eye in modern day New York City. This should come as no surprise, as "private detective" is probably the best way to describe Paladin's chosen profession. Indeed, to a small degree Paladin resembles Philip Marlowe, who had his own strict code of honour. The character of Paladin may also owe a good deal to the mystery men of pulp magazines and comic books, such as The Shadow and Batman (who in turn owe a great deal to the original mystery man of the West, Zorro).  Like Paladin these heroes lived as playboys when not fighting crime, although unlike Paladin they did not charge a fee for their work.

Although Have Gun--Will Travel obviously has its roots in American pop culture, the show's creation was the subject of controversy. A rodeo performer and construction worker named Victor DeCosta filed a lawsuit against CBS asserting that he had created the character of Paladin in the Forties. According to DeCoasta, he adopted the name "Paladin" for his rodeo act after an Italian man referred to him as a "paladino"at a horse show. He even claimed that he started using the phrase "Have gun--will travel" after an individual yelled it at him at a rodeo. As "Paladin" DeCosta dressed in black and even handed out cards with the phrase printed on them.

DeCosta won his case in a federal court in 1974, only to have the decision overturned by the court of appeals the following year. The court of appeals felt that DeCosta's claim had little merit as it was unlikely DeCosta's "Paladin" (who was simply DeCosta in a costume) would be confused with the "Paladin" of Have Gun--Will Travel. DeCosta persisted in filing appeals until he was awarded a settlement of $3.5 million in 1991. That same year DeCosta died at the age of 83, before he could receive the settlement. The settlement was overturned in 1992. Whether the series was inspired by DeCosta as he alleged may never be known for certain.

At any rate it is perhaps a moot point, as Richard Boone is the man the public will always remember as Paladin. As hard as it is to believe, he was not CBS's first choice for the role. The role was originally offered to Randolph Scott, who turned it down as he did not want to do television. It was then that the producers looked to Richard Boone, perhaps then best known for the role of Dr. Konrad Styner on the groundbreaking TV series Medic.

Scheduled before Gunsmoke on Saturday nights, Have Gun--Will Travel was a success from the beginning. In its first season it ranked number 4 out of all the shows in prime time for the year. In following seasons, from 1958 to 1960, Have Gun--Will Travel ranked number 3 in the annual ratings. For its last two seasons Have Gun--Will Travel dropped in the ratings, although it still ranked a respectable number 29 for the year each of those seasons.

It was a measure of its success that Have Gun--Will Travel would be one of the few TV shows to make the transition to radio. From 1958 to 1960 a radio show based on the popular TV series aired on CBS radio. Have Gun--Will Travel also conquered other media as well. In 1959 Whitman published a young adult novel, written by Barlow Meyers and illustrated by Nichols S. Firfires, based on the series. In 1960 a novel for adults by Noel Lomis was published. This was followed by A Man Called Paladin by Frank C. Robertson in 1963. It was based on the Have Gun--Will Travel episode "Genesis", essentially Paladin's origin story. Dell Comics also published several issues of a Have Gun--Will Travel comic book. The theme song of Have Gun--Will Travel ("The Ballad of Paladin"), written by Johnny Western, Sam Rolfe, and Richard Boone and performed by Johnny Western, even made the music charts. Duane Eddy's version of "The Ballad of Paladin" reached no. 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1962.  As might be expected, there was even a Have Gun--Will Travel lunchbox.

As shown by the ratings above, Have Gun--Will Travel was still doing well after five years on the air. It was at that point that Richard Boone wanted to leave the series. CBS convinced him to remain for one more year and Have Gun--Will Travel ended its run after six seasons on the air.

Unfortunately Have Gun--Will Travel would have a sporadic run in syndication over the years. While it did well as a syndicated rerun for much of the Sixties, the late Sixties and early Seventies would see concern grow over the effects of television violence. As a result many series considered "violent" saw their syndication revenue shrink overnight. Have Gun--Will Travel would then be seen rarely in the Seventies. Complicating matters was that, later in the Seventies, local programme directors developed a bias against shows shot in black and white. Many series previously successful in syndication (The Dick Van Dyke Show is a prime example) disappeared from local stations entirely because their entire runs were shot in monochrome. Finally, Victor DaCosta's lawsuits would keep Have Gun--Will Travel off the air for a good portion of the Seventies and Eighties. Fortunately the Nineties would see Have Gun--Will Travel once more appearing often on television screens. TV Land aired the Western that decade. It would also air on the Hallmark Channel, Encore Western, and the classic TV broadcast network ME-TV. The entire run of Have Gun--Will Travel is also out on DVD.

The level of intelligence often seen in Have Gun--Will Travel set it apart from many other Western series of the time. Through the adventures of Paladin the series explored various ethical and philosophical questions. Have Gun--Will Travel portrayed a world in which individuals and situations could not always be viewed in terms of black and white--there were always plenty of shades of grey in between. What is more, Have Gun--Will Traveli often explored issues that were very much relevant to the late Fifties and early Sixties. Over the years the show dealt with lynching, racism, prejudice, class conflict, and even the fear of modern medicine. Have Gun--Will Travel was far from a simple shoot 'em up.

The overall quality of Have Gun--Will Travel must rank it as one of the greatest Western TV series of all time. It brought to television a sophisticated Western hero with a strong sense of honour and placed him in a world where right and wrong weren't always what they seemed. Though its run it examined several important issues as well as the human condition in general. At the same time, however, there was never a shortage of excitement. Have Gun--Will Travel could be enjoyed as a straight shoot 'em up. It is perhaps for this reason that sixty years after its debut and a less than stellar syndication run that Have Gun--Will Travel is remembered. There can be little doubt that Have Gun--Will Travel will be remembered for a long time to come.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Just a Preview of Tomorrow

I've been busy all week, but I wanted to give you a preview of the subject of tomorrow's post. If you're familiar with this song, chances are you will know what tomorrow's post will be about...