Today’s blog is for a great blogathon, Big Stars on the Small Screen, and it’s found at How Sweet it Was. Be sure to click on the link to read great posts about Hollywood stars who decided to brave the world of television.
In the late 1940s and into the 1950s, television was making it’s entrance into American homes. Movie studios were understandably worried that this new medium would cut into their profits and keep potential movie goers from coming to the theatres. Aging movie stars, neglected or let go by their longtime studios, as well as up and coming stars, gladly turned to this new medium as another way to keep on working in their chosen field of acting.
Vincent Price( who’s movie career began in the late 1930’s) by the 1950’s had begun to play in horror films which would become his trademark. When I was a kid, I thought horror movies were the only movies Price appeared in. From becoming a fan of classic movies I now know how wrong I was! Price was quite a versatile actor. Beginning with stage roles and branching into film, it was a logical step for an actor of his abilities to enter the medium of television with ease. He did just that with the Season 2, episode 15 of the Western television hit, Have Gun Will Travel.
In 2011, my older kids and I watched the movie Stand by Me. When the boys in the movie began to sing the theme song for Have Gun Will Travel, my kids asked me about the song. I knew enough to tell them that it was the theme song for a popular weekly western tv show that aired in the 1950s. I decided to do an internet search on Youtube for the song and discovered that some kind soul had put episodes of Have Gun Will Travel on Youtube. I began to watch the episodes when I could and got hooked!
Have Gun Will Travel is all about a mysterious man named Paladin. He lives in a fancy hotel, The Carleton, in San Francisco, circa 1870s. He dresses in fine clothes, knows gourmet foods, wines, is well-read, is a very clever man, and appreciates beautiful ladies. He is also a gun for hire. Paladin, played with exceptional skill by Richard Boone, would scan the newspapers from around the country, or would receive a letter, asking him for help. The next scenes would revolve around Paladin, now dressed all in black, on his horse, with his guns, and a hidden derringer, riding into the countryside to his destination in order to solve a person’s problem, for a fee. Even though Paladin was a hired gun, he always used wisdom, common sense, logic, and made sure justice was done. He wasn’t afraid to also quote famous poems or lines from Shakespeare’s plays to help him get a point across.
Have Gun Will Travel aired on CBS from 1957-1963, making the top 10 of television shows during those years. Season 2, episode 15, The Moor’s Revenge, was the one that starred Vincent Price. Vincent portrays Shakespearean actor Charles Matthews. He is successfully touring the western part of the U.S. performing Shakespeare’s Othello. Miss Victoria Vestris(Patricia Morrison) is his co-star, his Desdemona, and his wife. Paladin is at their performance in San Francisco and enjoys it immensely. Later, at a dinner he has invited Matthews and his wife to, Paladin finds out that their next stop is a small, southern California town called San Diego. Paladin warns them not to go there as it will be the big Cattle Round-Up and the town will be full of cowboys who just want to drink, gamble, and be around the dance hall gals. Matthews and Vestris scoff at Paladin. After they leave the dinner, Paladin mails his business card to the owner of San Diego’s Opera House, a Mr. Bellingham(Morey Amsterdam, before he ever appeared on The Dick Van Dyke Show) and offers to protect the actors during their San Diego run.
Matthews and Miss Vestris arrive in San Diego and are shocked and dismayed when they see that the “Opera House” is really a saloon and that the marquee advertising their performance conveys the following message: See ALL of Victoria Vestris…Beauty Unadorned! With Comical Charlie Matthews. That wasn’t what they were planning on presenting to the citizens of San Diego! What will they now do? Also, thrown into the plot for good measure is a surly, hulking cowboy, Ben Jackson(Richard Shannon)who is obsessed with Miss Vestris. When he overhears that she and Matthews are refusing to perform their show in a saloon, he threatens to kill Mr. Bellingham. Will Paladin be able to save the show, save the saloon from being torn apart by drunk cowboys, and protect Matthews, Miss Vestris, and Mr. Bellingham from a cowboy stalker?
As I mentioned earlier, someone has put episodes of Have Gun Will Travel on Youtube and The Moor’s Revenge is one of those. Click on this link Have Gun Will Travel Season 2 Episode 15 -The Moor’s Revenge and you can view the episode in its entirety.
Price is great as the sort of hammy Shakespearean actor who is stubborn, insisting that the works of the great Bard of Avon will soothe rowdy, drunken cowboys. Morrison is also good as his “drama queen” of a type wife. Amsterdam plays the bewildered owner of the saloon well, and Shannon is great as the menacing cowboy. Of course, Boone is great too, as the very capable Paladin. I also want to add that this episode was directed by Andrew McLaglen, son of the actor Victor McLaglen, who often appeared in John Ford’s western films, and won an Oscar for Best Actor in 1935 for The Informer. I am assuming Andrew probably grew up on movie sets and was drawn into the career of directing. He directed some western films himself and a lot of the Have Gun Will Travel episodes.