Have Gun - Will Travel

Season 1 Episode 17

Ella West

Aired Saturday 9:30 PM Jan 04, 1958 on CBS
out of 10
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Episode Summary

Ella West

The promoter of a Wild West show asks Paladin for help taming down a very wild and famous female sharpshooter and show her how to act like a lady.

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  • What kind of sick whackjob writes this kind of story?

    No peaking to see who the writer is. But the message of this episode is basically that a woman isn't "really a woman" unless she acts like a woman. Tracey tells Ella this very thing. Yeah, the woman can dress up like a man, and drink-fight-cuss-shoot like a man. But if she doesn't act like a woman (which this story means: wear a dress and break into tears repeatedly), then she's not "really" a woman.

    This episode also shows Paladin at his worst. He can't seem to decide whether to flirt with Ella, to make love to her, or to treat her like the job she is. But watching him torment Ella into acting like a woman is truly sickening. He stands to make a lot of money by "taming" Ella. So what does he do the first time it becomes clear she's romantically interested in him? Tell her that she stinks and refuses to have anything to do with her until she acts like a woman. As soon as she does, hey presto! Paladin is all over her like white on rice. Once they have sex and he's completed his end of the deal, he sticks her with Tracey and rides off.

    But then you get to the end credits and you realize who wrote the episode. And all becomes clear. It's... Gene Roddenberry. Yes, it's the same weird bizarro-feminism that Roddenberry had in Star Trek. He'd show strong women: Number One, Uhura, Elaan of Troyius. Miranda Jones, even Yeoman Rand. But none of them were "real" women unless they acted like stereotypical 60s women. They might not break into tears, go off, and become barefoot and pregnant. But Kirk & Co. sure didn't respect them unless they did, and they were always portrayed as acting irrationally if they didn't.

    In fact, this plot is basically an early version of Elaan of Troyius. Kirk/Paladin are brought in to "tame" a woman, they make condescending remarks about the woman, and eventually Ella/Elaan (note the similarity) fall in love with them and the men use that to their advantage to complete their job, which directly or indirectly involves them marrying the women off to men. Roddenberry's name may not be on "Elaan of Troyius" (it's credited to John Meredyth Lucas), but I'll bet his handwriting was all over the outline. Maybe Lucas was so busy writing and directing that he didn't have enough time to rework Roddenberry's outline?

    Kirk describes Elaan as "an uncivilized savage, a vicious child in a woman's body, an arrogant Paladin describes Ella as "A grimy-faced, repugnant, loud-faced little Essayist Daniel Leonard Bernardi comments that Elaan becomes, "the submissive mistress of a white Ella and Paladin's relationship is the exact same here until Paladin (the white knight) gets what he wants from Ella (sex, implied by a kiss and a fade-to-black), completes his job, collects his fee, dumps her on another guy so he can ride off as a free spirit. Just like Kirk dumps Elaan on her betrothed so he can roam the range/spacelane as a free spirit.

    The characters all dance through Roddenberry's pseudo-feminism, changing on the whims of the plot. Ella changes in a matter of two minutes, thanks to some off-camera reading of poetry by Paladin. Tracey remains an enigmatic figure. Breed: it's hard to tell who he is (someone with the show, but this isn't really clarified) or what he wants. What is his deal with Ella, and if she's so tough why does she need or want him to kill Tracey instead of doing it itself? The 30-minute run time cuts a lot of this short so we can hear over and over about how Ella has to weep and put on a dress to be a "real" woman. But even sixty minutes wouldn't have saved it.

    So this episode gives us a little comedy with the typical "Eliza Doolittle" plot, but it really shoehorns Paladin into a mouthpiece for Roddenberry's sexual attitudes. Which means that Paladin comes across as more of a cad than anything and puts him out of character. Overall, it leaves a sour taste to the entire episode.moreless
  • An enteraining mixture of "Annie Get Your Gun" and "My Fair Lady", but Paladin would be the first to point out that there's a large amount of "The Taming of the Shrew" as well.moreless

    Paladin is making a stopover in the town of Abilene, and makes note of a "Help Wanted" poster for a Wild West show run by Tomahawk Carter, who, as it will turn out, is a friend of Paladin's. As he enter the hotel lobby, there is a sudden outburst of gunshots, yells, and a terrified bartender being pursued by a young woman in man's attire, flourishing a gun. With all his usual aplomb, Paladin quietly goes about signing for a room, while the woman, Ella West, loudly boasts of her ability to out-man every man in the room. A crowd listens to her, including a rather menacing-looking man who watches her avidly. Paladin continues to ignore her as she attempts to humiliate him. A handsome young man enters the lobby, and Ella instantly deflates. The man looks at her with exasperation, and Ella responds with quiet, intense rage, much different from her previous behavior. A potentially ugly scene is averted when Tomahawk enters the lobby. Ella coldly marches off. Tomahawk is delighted to meet Paladin, and insists on having a drink with him and the young man, Tracey Calvert. He also casually arranges to pay for any damages Ella had caused.

    Paladin learn that Ella had been signed on to join Tomahawk's show. This presents a problem, as Ella's unruly behavior may end up costing more than she's worth. Paladin points out that the legend of Ella West, a young woman who has taken on a man' role and manages it quite expertly, is far more romantic than the reality of a vulgar, unwashed female in stained clothing. Tracey allows as how Paladin might be exagerating just a tad, which draws Paladin's interest. Tracey, although a secondary character, is an interesting, well-drawn one for all of that. He is a man of serene self-confidence, who has no need to boast of his accomplishments. He does not feel the need to carry a gun, and, when offered a drink, does not feel that his manhood will be lessened by refusing. He makes a point of not telling Paladin how long he has known Ella, although it's clear that he has known her longer than she's been with the show (which does not appear to be too long). Tomahawk persuades Paladin to try and civilize Ella somewhat. Paladin agrees in exchange for a share of the show's profits for that season. Ella is outraged, but not to the point where she's willing to quit the show. Better to get rid of Paladin--only Paladin faces her down like a large, benevolent sheepdog contemplating a small, feisty terrier. He is unmoved when she shatters the glass in his hand with a bullet, merely commenting that the cost will be deducted from her salary. When she moved in on him, I thought for a moment that she was in for a spanking, but Paladin simply flipped her over his chair before politely suggesting that she try the sofa. Seething, Ella growls a bit before getting up and dropping gracelessly on the sofa in an immodest sprawl, her lips clamped so tight as to distort her face. There's a flicker of annoyance on Paladin's face, but he decides to let it slide while he commences the first lesson.

    We quickly learn that Ella had come from a difficult family background, with Tracey as the boy next door. Ella's purpose in joining the show was to take Tracey down a peg or two. In spite of her loud boasts in front of an audience, Ella does not seem happy with the idea of being a subject for newspaper articles. We're not shown just how much time passes by. We come to a scene downstairs, where Ella practices taking a drink in decorous fashion. This scene, which could easily have been practiced in Paladin's room, was made for the benefit of the ominous-looking man, Mr. Breed, who does not seem happy with the taming of the West.

    Ella has mentioned that Paladin had been spouting poetry in between lessons, and we hear him liken her to Keats' "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" (short-haired version). Ella is encouraged by the growing intimacy between them. She confesses that when Tracey's family moved away, she, sixteen, smitten, and desperate to escape her home life, had gone to the eighteen-year-old Tracey and begged him to take her away with him. Not ready for such matters, Tracey had fled. She has never attempted any such thing with any other man, but is willing to do so for Paladin. Paladin, with his knowledge of human nature, realizes why she is transferring her feelings to him (or maybe he's just avoiding commitment) and freezes her out, suggesting that she find a man willing to overlook her lack of hygiene. After more or less laying her soul at Paladin's feet, Ella is stunned, and blindly flees the room, leaving Paladin looking as though he hated himself. This particular episode was one that was translated to the radio program, and I had the chance to hear it. It followed the script pretty closely--except for this scene. Rather than simply bursting into sobs and running away, the radio version had Ella yelling at Paladin that she would see him dead. This is information that the audience must deduce in the following scene on TV. Tracey is summoned to the bar to try and deal with Ella, who seems to have gone beserk. Breed is with her, looking annoyed at Tracey's interferene. Tracey mentions that he had thought that he and Ella might resume their friendship and take it further, but it now seems clear that Ella has destroyed every vestige of womanhood she possessed. Breed, who seems to like Ella's wild and dirty side (perhaps he feels more like a man to be able to control the little hellcat) is prepared to square off with Tracey, but Tracey wants none of it. Paladin, however, is willing to oblige. "Mr. Fancy Pants" is suddenly dressed for the occasion (did he scramble into his black outfit as soon as he heard the first gunshots?) Breed is scornful, but Ella, who has been looking more and more confused, suddenly tells Breed she has changed her mind, but Breed is not willing to let her back out of the deal--which presumably involved her favors in exchange for killing Paladin. Breed (and Ella, and Tracey) is shocked when Paladin swiftly shatters five shots of whiskey in a row, leaving him just one bullet for Breed--which is all he needs. Breed quickly backs down (and quits the show) and Paladin tells the bewildered Ella that lessons resume at seven.

    Paladin is startled when Ella shows up at his door in a modest woman's dress. She also gruffly informs him that she has washed, as well. Paladin is impressed by her willingness to change. Ella shows that she does have some knowledge of the art of flirting, telling Paladin that she didn't know how to deal with her hair, and perhaps Paladin could help. She openly hints at Paladin's experience in ladies' boudoirs as she says that he must have seen a lot of women's hair "took down". What follows is a remarkably erotic scene, as Paladin speaks in a hushed tone of how even a prickly desert plant, properly tended, can be a thing of beauty, all while playing lightly with her hair. Ella reacts, and so does Paladin--he abruptly steps away, looking like a drowning man reaching for air. Ella steps after him, and ends up in his embrace.

    Just how far that embrace went, we'll never know. Ella, in a more revealing dress, is shown happily pouring wine in Paladin's room, in expectation of his return. She and Tracey are both taken aback when he is the one who enters. Tracey is surprised and pleased at the change. He also shows his character--knowing that Ella loves Paladin--or thinks that she does--he shows no jealousy or resentment--he's happy for her. At this point, Paladin enters the room, having inspected the horse that Tracey brought for him and found it satisfactory. He brushes aside Ella's announcment that she's going with him--he was only doing a job, which is now done. Tracey takes exception to his words, and Paladin flattens him. Ella's reaction is odd. You might think that she would aim a blow at Paladin, or else leap to tend her fallen hero. Instead, she starts bawling as though her life is in ruins. It's as though the writer could not think of a way to show her regained femininity except by having her cry. Paladin leaves a sealed envelope and slips out of the room, leaving Ella to marvel at the fact that Tracey fought for her--not that you could really call that a fight, but love is blind, after all. Paladin's note explained that he felt Tracey had a better claim on her--which probably soothed Ella's self-esteem. He also leaves a token for a brave and special lady--his custom-made chess knight watch fob (which he will have replaced in future episodes). Once again, Tracey shows no jealousy. (Ella's one lucky lady). Paladin goes on his way, any regrets no doubt soothed by the thought of the profits that will come his way from the double-billed Wild West show.moreless

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

    • When Paladin tells Ella, "Find some man who wants the smell of a stable," Ella is a couple of feet away from him and crouched down. Then there's a closeup of Paladin and Ella is nowhere in the frame. In the next shot, Ella has instantly crossed the distance and is standing up, only a couple of inches from Paladin's face.

  • QUOTES (9)

    • Ella: For two cents I'd run you out of town, pony boy.
      Tracey: (tosses her two cents) Don't cut your price for me.

    • Paladin: Tom, wait a minute. There's one wild thing that man will never civilize. Woman.

    • Paladin: Ella West is an illusion, a legend. A romantic illusion. People are going to expect you to bring that illusion to life. And instead you're going to present reality. A grimy-faced, repugnant, loud-mouthed little shrew.

    • Tomahawk: Well, I thought if you could tame a horse, you could tame that woman. Both just about as stubborn, one as the other.
      Paladin: With a horse the odds are twelve-to-one against. With a woman... (throws up his hands)

    • Paladin: I know, Tom, and that's why I want ten percent of the entire proceeds for the season. If I succeed, eh.
      Tomahawk: You haven't changed much, have you?
      Paladin: I hope that's a compliment.

    • Ella: You ain't going to make no lady out of me!
      Paladin: First, you wouldn't be worth two cents to the show as a lady. And second, it would be impossible in the first place.

    • Paladin: Now, Mr. Breed, I've got one shot left. You draw whenever you're ready.

    • Ella: The store sold me a lot of crossropes and lashin's to go underneath. I..I--it would have cinched me in like a saddle. I figured I didn't need it.
      Paladin: Obviously. But it's not considered polite to discuss undergarments.

    • Ella: You're just like that silver thing on your holster. It's a knight, ain't it?
      Paladin: It's a chess knight.
      Ella: Knights were real courteous fellas. They're got up so pretty and they talk so fancy that a girl might think they really mean what they say. I figure they're just being kindly.
      Paladin: You'd only need kindness if you had no virtues. And you have many. You have courage, a rare honest kind of courage that lets you look in a mirror and change what you see there. And you're a woman. You're a very attractive woman.

  • NOTES (1)

    • The small 'horse head' charm which Paladin gives to Ella West is the watch fob he purchased in an earlier episode, A Matter of Ethics.


    • The character of Ella West is clearly based on at least two women: Annie Oakley (1860-1926) and Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Burke, 1852-1903). Annie Oakley was a famed sharpshooter who joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show (although she always dressed in a reasonably feminine style), while Calamity Jane, also known for her marksmanship, was probably better known for her masculine attire and behavior.

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