Friday, June 29, 2012
Lessons From the Original Consultant
Between 1957 and 1963, in the heyday of television Westerns, there was a half-hour show called Have Gun — Will Travel, which aired on CBS Saturday nights at 9:30, just before Gunsmoke. Because there was no school the next day, I got to stay up late enough to watch it. I only got to stay up late enough for Gunsmoke if my parents were out for the night and my grandmother was in charge.
My grandmother was a big fan of Have Gun — Will Travel. The star was Richard Boone, who may be remembered by (slightly) younger readers for a later TV series, Hec Ramsey, and who also graduated from the same high school as I — Hoover High in Glendale, California. Boone wore a mustache in the show, unusual for the hairless fifties, and my grandmother used to call him (I spell this phonetically) SOO-see-kum-ee, which, roughly translated from the Russian, means “one with whiskers.”
Boone played a hired gunslinger named Paladin, who lived in a posh hotel in San Francisco. His calling card featured a picture of a chess knight, with the legend, “Have Gun Will Travel. Wire Paladin, San Francisco.” When I first saw the show at the age of seven, I thought Wire was Paladin’s first name.
Most episodes began in a similar way. Paladin would be in his best evening attire, standing by a roulette wheel or walking down an elegant staircase at his hotel, usually with a drop-dead-gorgeous woman at his side. (She was probably a high-priced working girl, but I didn’t figure that out until I was ten.) Hey Boy, the hotel’s Chinese bellhop (this was before the civil rights movement gained traction) would come running up to him, shouting, “Mr. Paladin, Mr. Paladin. Telegram!”
He would look at the telegram, politely excuse himself from the lady at his side, and in the next shot, he would be riding across the desert in his all-black work outfit, a six-shooter at his side and a derringer in his boot. He charged a thousand dollars an assignment, which was probably three to four times the annual income of an average American back then. He tried to solve problems with reason and ingenuity, but when that failed (as the plot generally required it to), he plugged and planted the bad guys, collected his fee, and headed back to San Francisco until the next episode.
Have Gun — Will Travel was above the average in the quality of its acting, writing and direction, and was highly rated for most of its six seasons. It’s one of the handful of favorite shows of my childhood, and I never really forgot about it but for years it was largely out of mind until I went into business as a consultant.
At some point in the first couple of years of my consulting business, I came across a rerun of Have Gun — Will Travel while channel surfing one night. It held up pretty well, but what really struck me at the time was that Paladin was the original consultant: The man of many skills who could get the tough job done, and who was often biding his time until the next call came.
From Paladin, I learned three important lessons about being a consultant. 1) Believe in yourself; if you’re good, the word will get out. 2) Enjoy the down time when you have it; you could be riding across the desert, guns at the ready, tomorrow. 3) Most importantly, charge what you’re worth; the client wouldn’t be calling you if he could do the job himself.