Monday, January 7, 2013


Season Three of 'Downton Abbey' premiered last night on 'Masterpiece Theater (Classic)'. Viewers in the UK and elsewhere - including those habitues of bit torrents - saw it last year. Not that it matters in terms of the Toobworld timeline - no matter when it was telecast, it's still 1920 in their lives.

As a caretaker of the TV Universe, one line of dialogue in particular leaped out at me. When Lady Cora learned that her husband, Lord Grantham, had lost the bulk of her fortune in an investment scheme, she took the news that they might lose the estate with aplomb: "I'm an American," she smiled sweetly. "'Have Gun, Will Travel'."

To me that meant that all she needed were the bare essentials and it didn't matter where the family ended up - so long as they were together.

But it was the turn of phrase that caught my attention. "Have Gun, Will Travel" was the title of a popular TV Western in the 1950's starring Richard Boone. And a quick search (meaning NOT exhaustive!) of the Internet did not lead to any previous usage from which the series might have borrowed it.

I figured there would be 'Downton Abbey' fanatics out there who might have taken umbrage that this period piece had been sullied by such a reference. So it was off to Google once again, where I found plenty of mentions of that line. Many noted that it was an anachronism from the Future, and worse yet, a reference to a TV shown no less! (Hello? What is 'Downton Abbey' then?)

I suppose it never occurred to them 'Downton Abbey' and 'Have Gun Will Travel' existed in the same TV dimension. Because that way, it's perfectly acceptable that Lady Cora should say such a thing.

'Have Gun Will Travel' was not just the title of that TV Western. It was the motto on the business car of a frontier "equalizer" who called himself "Paladin". (Toobworld Central believes that his real name was 'Hec Ramsey'.)

Paladin was based in San Francisco, working out of the Carlton Hotel. But he traveled all over the American West in order to help those in need. The time period for his adventures was a bit nebulous, but certain episodes locked themselves in to a specific year. For example (since this is a crossover blog) - when Paladin met Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, that had to be 1873.

Lady Cora's mother, Martha Levenson, mentioned that she had homes in New York and Newport, but I don't know if Paladin ever traveled that far east. However, the family began in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Isidore Levenson made his fortune as a dry goods merchant. If he shipped his goods west, perhaps he hired the services of Paladin to protect his shipments en route to San Francisco.

If the mercenary agreed to make the trip from Cincinnati to San Francisco, it's pozz'ble, just pozz'ble, that Cora and her brother Harry got the chance to meet Paladin when they were children. And that's when she could have seen the business card.

If not?

Ernest Pratt
Paladin, like his contemporaries the Brothers Maverick, was a legend of the West. Surely there had to be at least one writer, one "dime novelist", willing to pay him for the chance to publish his stories. I have three such candidates in mind - Nimrod Bligh, Ernest Pratt, and Tobias Wentworth Finch. But Finch and Bligh were rather unsavory characters so I don't think Paladin would have had any truck with them. So even though Mr. Pratt would have been more focused on his own creation (Nicodemus Legend, whom Pratt sometimes portrayed in the real world), he still might have added Paladin into the narrative.

Young Cora Levenson might have been a prim, young lady in the American version of the Victorian Era, properly trained a finishing school like Brackenridge, but she had a well-hidden rebellious streak which we have seen rise to the fore on occasion in 'Downton Abbey'. It could be that as a young girl she kept a well-worn, dime store novel about Paladin under her mattress.

And emblazoned on the cover of that book?


All that from one line of dialogue.....


  • 'Downton Abbey'
  • 'Have Gun, Will Travel'
  • 'Hec Ramsey'
  • 'Legend'
  • "Around The World In Eighty Days"
  • 'Bonanza'
  • 'Bret Maverick'
  • 'Maverick'
  • 'Benson'


Kathleen George said...

I'm often bothered by bad anachronistic dialogue (e.g. in The Tudors, a wife going to her death tells her lady in waiting,, "Why are you crying. This isn't about you!") but wasn't bothered by "Have gun, will travel," since it showed some character wit. My excuses: 1. Shakespeare was anachronistic. 2. Cora was ahead of the game, turning a phrase.

Anonymous said...

The term 'have gun will travel' was used in advertisements as a catch phrase as early as the 1900s. It therefore is not out of place coming from the Countess.

DLWilson said...

I noticed this "Have gun" phrase in the recent Downtown recap of earlier seasons. It jumped out at me, because I am old enough to have seen the TV series in its first run, and knew that the title came from "have tux, will travel", as most people did. So one takes the "Have gun" reference to have originated not earlier than 1950, and the anachronism is right there. Had the character said, "Have tux . . ." I would have accepted it.

The reason things like this are significant is that they violate the "reality" of the scene. It's sloppy writing, pure and simple.

iammarthaofbethany said...

This immediately jumped out at me as well. I choose to believe the "novel" explanation. Otherwise there truly is no excuse for such a lapse.

Solitaire said...

I was shocked when Cora said this. I was even more shocked that Julian would have allowed the phrase to be used. Did he write it in? More research is needed. Thank goodness I am not the only nit-picker!