So there I was working on a bottle of vodka with Paladin, who was wearing a purple muu muu and who was trying to get Liberty Valence on the phone so we all could go shark fishing in Hawaii.
I wrote a syndicated column that the New York Times distributed to every major market except Washington, D.C., which apparently didn’t like me, which was fine with me. Richard Boone was in New York for one reason or another, and a bright-eyed young publicist called me to come meet him in his room at the New York Hilton.
Boone famously played Paladin, the educated, sophisticated and cultured Old West mercenary who hired out to settle disputes, often with a sidearm, in the 1950s series “Have Gun -- Will Travel.” You’ll know the theme:
“’Have Gun -- Will Travel’ reads the card of a man
A knight without armor in a savage land.
It’s fast gun for hire he’s the calling wind
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.”
The lyric ignores the fact that Paladin’s home base was a posh San Francisco hotel, where he had a Chinese lackey named Hey Boy and who was sometimes seen as being a dandy. Not that many gunfighters lectured villains on their “rough way of talking” and left calling cards with the chess knight on them and the legend “Have Gun -- Will travel. Wire Paladin, San Francisco.”
I don’t remember why Boone’s young PR man invited me to meet him. I only remember the man looking terrified when he opened the door to let me in.
He sat me on the couch. After a few minutes of rustling around in the other room, Boone appeared. He was wearing a floor-length purple muu muu and looked like he had just spent three days in a San Francisco hotel, this one in the Tenderloin.
He said hello and faced me, squinting through a haze, the famous lines on his face looking like trenches. He asked, “Are you a drinking man?”
Those days I was and said so. He trudged back into the other room, and after bit of rustling around, he appeared carrying a bottle of vodka. He slammed it down atop one of those shoulder-height dressers that hotels must buy by the trainload. He stared at the bottle for a minute, then turned back to me and raised an index finger and flashed the “help me out here” look.
I said, “Glasses?”
He said, “Glasses,” and went back into the other room.
After more rustling around he reappeared carrying two glasses. He slammed them down atop the dresser next to the bottle and turned me again. Again came the index finger and the look.
“Ice?” I said.
“Ice,” he replied and went back into the other room. More rustling around. Then he reappeared. He said, “No fucking ice” and poured two glasses of room-temperature vodka. He downed his, a half glass of it, in one blast. I did the same. I could do that in those days.
Over the lips and past the gums, look out stomach, here it comes.
The PR man went into stage three cardiac arrest.
Anyway, most of the afternoon and most of the bottle later Paladin and I were the best of friends and we were talking about fishing, which I hadn’t done since moving to New York but remembered well enough from having grown up by the sea.
Boone lived on Oahu, explaining both the muu muu and the fishing. He had bonded so closely to his island Pandora that he was offered the role of McGarrett in “Hawaii 5-0.” He turned it down and Jack Lord got the part.
I don’t know why Boone turned it down. Maybe because he would really suck in a pompadour.
Back to fishing. One of his fishing friends was Lee Marvin, who among many roles played the villain in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” with James Stewart and John Wayne. Not too shabby. Marvin was so fond of fishing that he was offered the role of Quint in “Jaws.” He turned it down, and Robert Ryan got the part.
We know why Marvin turned it down. He said "What would I tell my fishing friends who'd see me come off a hero against a dummy shark?"
Well, there’s Paladin on the phone trying to reach his fishing buddy Liberty Valence to introduce him to his new friend Mike Jahn so we all could get on his boat, docked in Oahu, and go shark fishing.
I saw myself adrift in shark-filled waters with the two biggest drunks in Hollywood. I don’t remember the rest of the Richard Boone episode except that I went home to write it up for my column. I didn’t wind up eaten by a shark and neither did Lee Marvin. What happened to Paladin I don’t recall.
I hope he found ice.
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