“Have Gun — Will Travel” reads the card of a man. A knight without armor in a savage land. These words pretty much described the premise of the show: If you need help, you’d better hope someone hands you a business card with a picture of a chess piece on it, a white knight, and then do what it says. Wire Paladin, San Francisco. Expect a man to show up who’s well-dressed, usually in all black, and has a Colt at his hip. He’s played by Richard Boone, who is basically a fist in the form of a man.
Despite the name of the show, and the cards Paladin often hands out, he was a gentleman gunfighter, who usually tries to resolve issues without violence. Since it’s a Western TV show, however, he always had to do some violence before the episode ends. The show also demonstrated that Paladin was truly a gun for hire. If you asked for his help, he charged $1000 in 1875. That’s over $20,000 today, for what was often a day or two of actual work. Now, many episodes show him working for the poor for little to no money, so, apparently, he was a fan of sliding scale rates. Or he’s just a really nice guy… who shoots people for money. Again, it’s a Western, so either could be the case.
As a sign of the time at which the show was written (1957) and took place (1875), his hotel always had a Chinese Bellhop, usually named Hey Boy (Kam Tong)… or occasionally his sister, Hey Girl (Lisa Lu). No, those aren’t their actual names, they are just referred to by what people say to them most frequently. Again, different times.
The first time we see Hey Girl was in the episode “Hey Boy’s Revenge,” an episode dedicated to fleshing out Hey Boy’s backstory. It turns out that Hey Boy, real name Kim Chan, like most of his family, arrived from China to San Francisco.
He and his sister work in the service industry, his brother works on the railroad. His brother, upon finding out the horrible conditions that Chinese, Hispanic, and Black workers are forced to endure on the railroad, leads a strike to demand better salaries and working environments. Naturally, he’s killed by the railroad owners. And really, I mean naturally. This apparently happened all the time in real life.
Hey Boy gets arrested attempting to kill the man who murdered his brother. Paladin is forced to help get his friend, which is how he refers to Hey Boy throughout the episode, out of jail and yet still convince him that the Justice system can, in fact, help the Chinese against a white company. He stands up for Hey Boy against the group of people that forms a lynch mob, reminding them that Hey Boy is a person, just like them, and then has to stand up against Hey Boy when he forms a mob of his own, seeking justice that they don’t believe they can get as Chinese people. It goes out of its way to both show why mobs are bad with the first mob planning on Frontier Justice, but then also has a mob that’s formed by the people who believe they have literally no access to real justice, and have turned to this not out of anger, but out of a belief that it’s their only option.
For the time, this episode was both touching and fairly progressive (it’s in a show where the Chinese character is called “Hey Boy,” so that’s surprising). Plus, it features Richard Boone giving two speeches to two different mobs in which he manages to convey both that he doesn’t want to fight, but also that he will absolutely kill everyone present if they make him. Short of Clint Eastwood’s William Munny in Unforgiven, there’s no man who seems more capable of keeping that promise.
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