Sunday, June 18, 2017

Richard Boone: A Knight Without Armour..

It was 100 years ago today that Richard Boone was born. The actor would forever be known for his role as Paladin, the sophisticated, intellectual gun-for-hire on the TV show Have Gun--Will Travel, but he played many other parts throughout his career. While his biggest success was on television, he also appeared in several motion pictures and on stage as well.

Richard Boone was born on June 18 1917 in Los Angeles, California. He was a direct descendent of Squire Boone, the younger brother of legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone. He attended the Army and Navy Academy in San Diego and Hoover High School in Glendale, California. He enrolled at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, where he was college lightweight amateur boxing champion. He dropped out of college and then worked in the California oil fields and pursued painting at the California arts colony of Carmel. In 1941 he joined the United States Navy and served during World War II. While on the U.S.S. Enterprise he face bombing. He was on the U.S.S. Intrepid when it was torpedoed. He was on the U.S.S. Hancock when it was attacked by kamikazes. In the Navy he served as an aviation ordnanceman, an enlisted Naval Aircrewman, and a tail gunner on Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber

Following World War II, Mr. Boone studied at the Neighbourhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio in New York City. He made his debut on Broadway in a revival of Medea in 1947. He appeared on Broadway two more times, in The Man in 1950 and in The Rivalry in 1959. It was in 1950, while he was still with the Actors Studio, that he was asked by a actress studying there to help her with a screen test for 20th Century Fox. Mr. Boone was simply to feed lines to her from Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie. The screen test was directed by Elia Kazan, whom Mr. Boone knew through the Actors Studio, for director Lewis Milestone. Mr. Milestone was less than impressed with the actress, but he was impressed by Richard Boone's voice. He was signed to a seven year contract with 20th Century Fox and made his film debut in Hall of Montezuma in 1950.

Richard Boone would have a fairly successful career in feature films. He appeared in such movies as Man on a Tightrope (1953), The Robe (1953), Dragnet (1954), Man Without a Star (1955), The Tall T (1957), The Alamo (1960), Hombre (1967), The Arrangement (1969), and The Shootist (1976). While he saw a good deal of success in film, it would ultimately be television that would make Richard Boone famous.

Mr. Boone made his television debut in 1949 as a regular on the TV show The Front Page. He guest starred on such shows as Actors Studio, General Electric Theatre, Frontier, and Lux Video Theatre. It was while Mr. Boone was working on Halls of Montezuma that he met actor and producer Jack Webb. Not only would Mr. Boone appear on episodes of the radio show Dragnet, but he appeared in the feature film based on the radio and TV show as well. When Dragnet writer James E. Moser was developing a medical drama, Jack Webb quite naturally put him in touch with Richard Boone. It was then in 1954 that Richard Boone starred as Dr. Konrad Styner on the TV show Medic. Medic was television's first serious medical drama and would pave the way for all medical dramas to come, from Ben Casey to ER. While it was not particularly high rated (it had the misfortune of airing opposite I Love Lucy on CBS), it was critically acclaimed. It was nominated for several Emmy Awards, including Best Written Dramatic Material, Best Dramatic Series, Best Actor Starring in a Regular Series (for Richard Boone), and yet others. It won Emmys for Best Direction of Photography and Best Cinematography for Television.

It was in 1957 that Richard Boone was cast as Paladin in the Western TV series Have Gun--Will Travel. Paladin was a gun-for-hire and all around troubleshooter in the Old West. The title was taken from Paladin's business cards, which read, "Have Gun--Will Travel Wire Paladin, San Francisco." Have Gun--Will Travel differed greatly from most TV Westerns of the time. Despite being very skilled with a gun, Paladin preferred to solve problems without violence whenever possible. He was also an intellectual and bon vivant, enjoying fine clothing, the opera, the theatre, and fine food and drink. His knowledge spanned a number of subjects, from classical literature to philosophy. The show itself addressed a number of topics generally ignored on TV shows in the late Fifties and early Sixties, from prejudice to racism to corporate greed. Have Gun--Will Travel was often described as a thinking man's Western, a description that was fairly accurate.

From its very first season Have Gun--Will Travel proved to be a hit. For its first four seasons it ranked in the top five highest rated shows for the year, coming in at number 3 for 3 of those seasons. Its last two seasons it ranked a still respectable number 29 for the year. In all it ran six seasons before going onto a fairly successful run as a syndicated rerun. The show made Richard Boone a household name.

Sadly Richard Boone's next show would not be nearly as successful. The Richard Boone Show aired in the 1963-1964 season and was a unique take on the anthology series. It featured a repertory of players (including  Robert Blake, Harry Morgan, and Guy Stockwell) who would assume different roles in each episode. As to the episodes themselves, they varied from comedy to drama. The Richard Boone Show was critically acclaimed. It was also nominated for five Emmy Awards, even though it won none of them. Unfortunately, its ratings were not particularly good. It aired opposite the highly rated Petticoat Junction on CBS and it was cancelled at the end of the season.

Richard Boone's final TV show would be one of the rotating series that aired as part of the umbrella show NBC Sunday Mystery Movie. Hec Ramsey starred Richard Boone as the deputy sheriff of the same name. Set in the early 20th Century, Hec was a former gunfighter who preferred the newly emerging field of forensics to using his guns. The show was produced by Mr. Boone's old friend Jack Webb and created by Harold Jack Bloom. Hec Ramsey proved fairly successful, but ended after only two seasons because of disagreements between Richard Boone and Universal Studios.

Richard Boone continued to appear in movies in his later years, including The Shootist (1976), The Big Sleep (1978), and Winter Kills (1979). In 1970 he moved to St. Augustine, Florida, where he spent much of his time painting. Sadly, he developed throat cancer in 1980. He died of pneumonia the following year, on January 10 1981 at the age of 63. His final role was as Commodore Matthew Perry in The Bushido Blade (1981).

In addition to acting, Richard Boone also directed several episodes of Have Gun--Will Travel and The Richard Boone Show.

Richard Boone will almost certainly always be remembered as Paladin. And it is not at all a bad role for which to be remembered. Unlike many of the heroes on the TV Westerns of the Fifties, Paladin was a very complex character. He was sophisticated enough to appreciate a fine work of art, but at the same time tough enough that he could take out nearly anyone in a fight. Unlike many Western heroes he was not nearly superhuman, and could be fallible at times. He occasionally, though rarely, made mistakes. He was even known to cry at times, something unthinkable for most Western characters of the era. It should be little wonder that Have Gun--Will Travel is so well remembered. As played by Richard Boone, Paladin stood out from the rest of Western characters then on television.

Of course, while Richard Boone was best known for playing heroes on television (Paladin, Hec Ramsey), he was surprisingly effective at playing villains in movies. In The Tall T he played Frank Usher, the leader of a band of outlaws, opposite the protagonist Pat Brennan (played by Randolph Scott). Frank Usher was as villainous as they come, perfectly comfortable with committing cold blooded murder. At the same time, however, Richard Boone played him as a complex, even sensitive individual. He as not a run-of-the-mill Western bad guy by any stretch of the imagination. Although most closely associated with the Western genre, Richard Boone would even play villains in other sorts of films. In Man on a Tightrope he played Krofta, who both a member of the circus in the film and the Communist Party. As usual, he played Krofta not as a stock villain, but a complex character with his own motivations.

While Richard Boone was known for playing heroes on television and villains in films, he often played characters who were neither hero nor villain. An example of this is the role of Sam in The Arrangement (1969). Sam is the ageing and stubborn father of advertising executive Eddie Anderson (played by Kirk Douglas), who is experiencing a mental breakdown. While the film itself is not particularly good, Richard Boone's performance as Sam is still impressive. In Halls of Montezuma Richard Boone also played a character who was not necessarily of heroic proportions.  Lt. Col. Gilfillan is all too weary of battle and anxious as his Marines attack a Japanese held island in the South Pacific.

Ultimately Richard Boone stands out from many other actors known for Westerns and action movies in that he had the talent to play a variety of roles and to give the characters he played complex inner lives. It should come as no surprise that he acted in Shakespeare's plays on stage. In the whole of a career that spanned over thirty years, no two of Richard Boone's characters are ever alike. He may be best known for Paladin, but he played many other excellent roles.


Caftan Woman said...

Very thorough and understanding look at Boone and his career. The Richard Boone Show aired in southern Ontario back in the 80s and I was very impressed. Just my sort of thing, but then, so is Have Gun - Will Travel.

Unknown said...

You forgot the Japanese/American tv movie the last dinosaur in 1977.