Friday, July 26, 2013

HAVE GUN-WILL TRAVEL, "Gun Shy" (1958)

One of my favorite television cowboy Westerns is Have Gun-Will Travel. Richard Boone was known as the Barrymore on horseback and while he often spouted poetry and other words of wisdom, the stories more often were inspirational... one could best describe them as "wisdom fiction."

On the evening of March 29, 1958, the episode "Gun Shy" was telecast with Dan Blocker (pre-Bonanza days) as a villain. The plot was simple: In order to collect the gift of a precious jade chess set, Paladin must first intercept the men who stole it from Hey Boy's family. It is an average episode of the series but the dining room scene builds tension that almost had me leaning on the chair to see what happens. And there is a great blooper in this episode, too. Boone is filmed outdoors on a hill, looking down on Ma Warren's boarding house with his collar buttoned and wearing a white necktie. When he arrives at the house seconds later (on an indoor set), the tie is gone and the collar open. The reason is simple. The first five or six episodes of the television series depicts Paladin wearing the white tie. But as the actor rode a horse, the tie kept bouncing up and hitting him in the face. The producers quickly agreed to eliminate the tie. But the stock footage from an early production was inserted into this episode -- hence why there is a tie and then no tie.

Chuck: Mister.
Paladin: The name is Paladin.
Chuck: Mister, that's what I meant. She's got my brand on her.
Paladin: Which one, mother or daughter?
Chuck: Look! Let's get something straight right now. In this country we shoot claim jumpers on sight.
Paladin: (Brandishing a pheasant bone) Well, I'm sure they die very happy.

Most people don't know how television production works and the majority assume people just write a teleplay and submit it to the producers and story editors. In actuality, this rarely ever happens. It takes too long for producers and story editors to read a teleplay. Instead, a staff of gifted writers draft a story proposal which ranges from one page to nineteen. Sometimes the proposals are titled. Sometimes they are not. Often submitted by an agency representing the writer (to avoid lawsuits from unsolicited proposals), the story proposals are reviewed in quicker time than a teleplay. If approved, a contract is drawn up and the writer is commissioned to write a first draft and a final draft. The first draft is always reviewed by the producer, story editor, production chief (who suggests changes to keep the budget down such as eliminating extra bit players and unnecessary location shots), network censorship (hoping to avoid inconsiderate dialogue and scenarios) and lawyers who want to ensure there is nothing in the script that could open a can of worms. Then the revised draft is written with all the changes and the finished script is completed. If, during production, pages need to be revised and inserted into the scripts, the revised pages are not white -- they are of a different color. (This is how, many times, if you buy a teleplay off eBay from a program like The Lone Ranger or Soldiers of Fortune, you can tell if it is an original or a copy.)

Chuck: Look, I told you. She's got my brand on her.
Paladin: Young man, are you under the impression that Nancy is a cow?

"Gun Shy" was later adapted into a radio drama for the radio version of Have Gun-Will Travel. Jeanette Nolan reprised her role as Ma Warren--the only time that any actor did so (and it was because she was one of the few who was doing both radio and television at the time). So the enclosed may interest both radio and television fans.

Enclosed below is a reprint of the six page story proposal by Frank and Doris Hursley, who also wrote the first draft. Albert Aley wrote the final draft incorporating the necessary changes. If you have this episode on DVD (now available commercially courtesy of CBS), you can watch the episode and then read this plot proposal to compare the differences.

Click to enlarge.