Richard Boone, 63, the actor who played Paladin in the vastly successful "Have Gun, Will Travel" television series and used the independence that came with the money he earned to add directing and painting to his career, died of cancer Saturday at his home in St. Augustine, Fla.
As Paladin, Mr. Boone played a black-garbed, well-spoken Shakespeare-quoting gun-for-hire. His calling card provided the title of the series, which appeared on CBS-TV from 1957 to 1961. It said: "Have gun, wiill travel. Wire Paladin, San Francisco." Paladins, of course, were the knights-errant who attended Charlemagne. So ethical was the TV Paladin that occasionally he would turn on the people who hired him if he discovered they were the bad guys. From 1958 to 1961, the program ranked No. 3 on the airwaves. When Mr. Boone tired of the role, CBS paid him a reported $1.1 million to continue on for a year.
In appearance and manner, Paladin was in vivid contrast to "Hec Ransey," another Western television series in which Mr. Boone starred in 1972 and 1973. Hec Ransey was gravel-voiced and slow-talking and he slouched. He looked like he could use a bath and a shave. But he was righteous and straight-shooting and nobody to fool around with and he was the deputy of a young sheriff in a little town in Oklahoma. Although he had a fearsome reputation as a gunfighter from his earlier days, Hec's biggest weapon as a deputy was his knowledge of the newfangled science of criminology, including fingerprinting. Of course, he was on the side of widows and orphans and other unfortunates.
At least in appearance, Paladin was a lot more like Dr. Konrad Styner, the physician Mr. Boone played on the "Medic" television series from 1954 to 1956. The Styner character was the host and narrator of the program, which was based on real medical cases and often shot on location in hospitals. Styner also played in some episodes. His standard introduction was a description of doctors, which said ". . . Guardian of birth, healer of the sick, and comforter of the aged." In the role of Dr. Styner, Mr. Boone was so appealing to women he got masses of fan mail from them, many asking his advice on medical questions. It was in "Medic" that Mr. Boone made his first notable impact on the public.
But the series that interested him most was "The Richard Boone Show," which appeared on the NBC-TV network in the 1963-64 season. It was a repertory theater with the same actors playing different roles in different plays each week. Mr. Boone was the host and the director as well as the star in about half the episodes. The noted playwright Clifford Odets was to have been the story editor and the writer of occasional scripts, but he died before the series went on the air.
"The Richard Boone Show" also won favor with the critics and it reflected Mr. Boone's view that good programs would draw good audiences. "I just don't accept the precept that the public is a babbling idiot," he told The Christian Monitor in an interview in 1963. "If you give the people good, exciting shows, they will watch."
Alas, they did not watch "The Richard Boone Show," or watch it in sufficient numbers to prevent the network from cancelling it after one season. Mr. Boone reportedly was so angry that he left California and settled in Hawaii, where he lived for several years and conducted a number of investments, including some television productions, and took some acting assignments. He also appeared in a number of movies in addition to the "Hec Ramsey" series.
In 1972, Mr. Boone moved to Florida. He was the state's cultural ambassador and devoted much of his time to painting.
When he left "Have Gun, Will Travel," Mr. Boone told an interviewer that he was "gratefully glad" to be done with the part. But he added: "If you have to pick a character to live with, that was a good one." Moreover, he said, the program made him rich. "It was a ridiculous thing, but I don't ever have to worry about money. As a result of playing Paladin, I have what is known to actors as a lot of go-to-hell money."
Mr. Boone's film credits included several John Wayne pictures, among them "The Shootist," Wayne's last, "Big Jake," in which he played "The Duke's" adversary; and "The Alamo." He also appeared in "The Arrangement," "The Kremilin Letter," "The Hobbitt," "Winter Kills" and many more.
Richard Allen Boone was born in Los Angeles on June 18, 1917. His father was a prosperous attorney and the young Boone went to private schools and then to Stanford University. He was expelled following a fraternity prank and went to work as a roustabout in the Southern California oil fields. He married the first of his three wives, Jane Hopper, an artist, and joined the artists colony in Carmel, Calif. He tried painting and short-story writing. The marriage ended in divorce after four years.
During World War II, Mr. Boone was a tail-gunner in a torpedo plane squadron stationed in the Pacific.
When the war was over, he went to New York and enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where he studied acting with Sanford Meisner. He studied at the Actors Studio with Elia Kazan and modern dance with Martha Graham. He made his stage debut as a soldier in "Medea," which starred Judith Anderson. He also appeared in "Macbeth" and other plays. He moved to Hollywood in 1951 and made his screen debut as the colonel in "The Halls of Montezuma."
His second wife, to whom he was married only briefly, was Mimi Kelly, a singer.
Survivors include his wife, the former Claire McAloon, a ballerina, whom he married in 1951, of St. Augustine, and a son, Peter.