I Was Wrong

Posted on January 5, 2011

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I have a certain opinion of early Westerns on television: Formulaic, cliche-ridden, and racist about sums them up. I thought this was true, despite having watched The Rifleman and Gunsmoke growing up, and having been a huge fan of The Wild, Wild West TV series (in self-defense, I must say that I watched these in syndication – not original runs). There’s even a scene in the 1962 movie, Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, where Jimmy Stewart and Maureen O’Hara can exactly time events in the Western show that their son watches – because it’s so formulaic. I mean, if contemporary media made fun of the idea, there must be some truth in it, right? Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Then I watched Have Gun – Will Travel.

I learned the word “paladin” from Dungeons & Dragons, so I was curious about a 1957 Western TV show with a main character named Paladin. The more I learned about the show, the more curious I became. Richard Boone played Paladin. The kindest thing you could say about Richard Boone (1917-1981) is that he was ruggedly handsome. The truth is, he showed signs of his life – when he’d boxed light-heavyweight, and worked the oil fields, in addition to attending Stanford University and serving in the US Navy during WWII. In The Shootist, John Wayne’s character describes Richard Boone’s character as “mean and ugly.” But here he is, starring as a Western hero. Paladin doesn’t even like to draw his gun, preferring to solve problems with his brains and personality.

I’ve now watched all of the first season, and I’m surprised to find out how ignorant I was. Oh, I’m sure there were formulaic. cliche-ridden, racist Western shows, too. I definitely noticed how White the cast is. That said, I realized that writers, directors, and actors had to work in Westerns, because that’s what there was. Gene Roddenberry, who created Star Trek, wrote several scripts – including the gripping first-season Christmas episode. Top-quality people worked in Westerns, and turned in fine performances.

Overall, I recommend it. If you do buy or rent the DVDs (they are available through Netflix), buy all means check out the “Wire Paladin” sections. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the pedigrees of the writers, directors, and co-stars.

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Posted in: television