For anyone not aware, Season Four of HAVE GUN-WILL TRAVEL was the second best season of the series (following the superb Second Season). Frank Pierson was the producer, having recently replaced Sam Rolfe, the creator of the TV western. Rolfe came to blows with Richard Boone and conflict behind the camera led to Rolfe leaving the series and quitting on CBS. Pierson got along VERY well with Boone, allowing the actor to take control of the series (including directing a few episodes). Season Three was mildly weak as a result of Boone’s insistence that each episode be filmed in two days instead of three, so he and actor Martin Gabel could play the starring leads in Norman Corwin’s THE RIVALRY on Broadway. The season’s filming had to conclude early in order for them to appear on schedule. With Season Four, there was no rush-job and each episode was made with care. In fact, at Boone’s pleasure, the series became a text book example of how an actor can explore the character he played and you see a number of different sides of Paladin. “Love’s Young Dream” is a sequel to a third-season episode, with a pre-Festus Ken Curtis as Monk, applying his real singing voice before the camera. “Out at the Old Ballpark” is perhaps the silliest episode of the series, but the fourth season brings to life some of the best episodes of the series such as “A Head of Hair,” “Saturday Night,” “The Poker Fiend,” “The Marshal’s Boy” (which dealt with mental illness, tricky subject matter for the time), the series’ only two-part episode “A Quiet Night in Town” which explores a darker side of Paladin and introduces us to Sydney Pollack as an actor before he became a director, “The Princess and the Gunfighter” which was clearly a rip-off of ROMAN HOLIDAY, “El Paso Stage” (with a crooked Buddy Ebsen), and my personal favorite, “Broken Image.” (Keep in mind that a couple of these episodes were in the latter half of the fourth season and will appear in volume 2.)
“The Shooting of Jessie May” was the episode that brought William Talman back to Perry Mason. The actor was banned from the courtroom drama as a result of a drug charge, but after his appearance on this episode of HAVE GUN, CBS read the fan mail and reconsidered.
“The Long Way Home,” which will probably appear in the second volume of this season, will have my interest. When Columbia House initially released the entire series on 56 VHS videos many years ago, that was the only episode that suffered damage to the original studio archival negative. The damage was during the closing credits but some speculate the closing credits had a mistake and for legal reasons the studio could not include the complete cast. So the closing credits was computerized and not the original closing credits as it aired on TV. My hope is that when this episode appears on DVD, CBS will go back to the original master and not the altered print. No one wants to see an altered version of the closing credits.
This fourth season is a welcome addition to my collection. If anyone wants to know how I know so much about the series, please consult THE HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL COMPANION by Les Rayburn and Martin Grams. The book was not released by a major publishing house, course those companies have no interest in books like these. But it’s not only a wealth of information, but gives behind-the-scenes stories and details for each episode. Sydney Pollack recalled how the scene where he smashes Boone’s hand was done too real and the actor had to have his hand mended. Betsy-Jones Moreland recalled how she thought she was going to die as a result of the behind-the-scenes parties. Even the musicians recalled working on the series. Lots of stories and memories and recollections. The book is available on Amazon.com (that’s where I got my copy) so I recommend you get both and enjoy the fourth season.
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After a couple years of hesitation, CBS has finally released HGWT Season Four. In my honest opinion, Season Four is the best season of the series. Hey Girl replaces Hey Boy (the actor departed for a career opportunity that ultimately failed) and there is chemistry between Paladin and Hey Girl. I think it should be noted that the radio program of the same name had Missy Wong before the TV version premiered Hey Girl and I suspect the radio program influenced the decision to replace Hey Boy with a female.
Some of the best episodes of the series appear in Season Four. I noticed that CBS also decided to release only half of the season. True, they will make more money splitting the season in half, rather than package the entire season in one box set as they did with the three prior seasons. It comes down to economics. The second and third season failed to meet the studio’s expectations so this was a compromise. And God bless CBS for continuing the release of HGWT Season Four. Here’s hope Season Five and and Season Six come out on DVD.
Oh, yes, I co-wrote the HAVE GUN-WILL TRAVEL COMPANION for OTR Publishing with Les Rayburn. It was a labor of love. Yes, the book is still available on Amazon.com. No, this is not a shameless pitch, but rather full disclosure of my credentials as a fan and authority on the TV and radio series. If R.G. Bright had not done a thorough job with his Season Four review, I would have done the same thing. So please accept my review as a second motion vote for encouraging people to buy the DVD set. And Radio Spirits has released the radio program commercially on CD. If you have never heard the radio program, I recommend you check it out.
Like many reviewers, I was not thrilled with CBS’ decision to do a high-price split season with Season 4 of “Have Gun Will Travel”. I did purchase the set, but it wasn’t an automatic decision and I stalled on making the purchase for a few weeks to see if the price would be adjusted. However, once I received the set I did notice that the picture quality appeared to be superior to the quality of the first 3 seasons that were released. The picture and audio seem much crisper. And as far as I can tell, CBS did not mess with the original music, as they unfortunately have done with such a classic TV series as “The Fugitive”. I was disappointed that they did not include the “Wire Paladin” feature that was a part of the first 3 seasons, which gave you background information on the episodes and the guest stars that appeared in a particular episode. Overall, I’m glad that the show is being released again and I hope that if sales for this half season are not as spectacular as CBS hopes for, that they recognize their own role in possibly discouraging sales by the split season treatment. However, the acting work of Richard Boone in this series, the excellent writing that dealt progressively with many social issues within the context of a Western still deserves to be seen and enjoyed by the public. Those are some of the reasons that motivated my 5-star rating. I hope this series continues to find a large, receptive audience.