Once Upon a Time (The Twilight Zone)

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"Once Upon a Time"
The Twilight Zone episode
Buster Keaton Twilight Zone 1961.JPG
Keaton as Woodrow Mulligan
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 13
Directed by Norman Z. McLeod (with an uncredited sequence by Les Goodwins)
Written by Richard Matheson
Featured music William Lava (piano score played by Ray Turner)
Production code 4820
Original air date December 15, 1961
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"The Jungle"
Next →
"Five Characters in Search of an Exit"
List of season 3 episodes

"Once Upon a Time" is episode 78 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. It originally aired on December 15, 1961.


Woodrow Mulligan is a grumpy janitor in 1890, dissatisfied with his time and place: a backwater town called "Harmony" with 17-cent cuts of meat, $2 hats, livestock freely roaming the streets, and penny-farthing bicycles that knock him down while going the speed limit (8 mph). He works for Professor Gilbert, who has just invented a time helmet.

Pouncing on the opportunity, Mulligan uses the helmet to transport himself to 1960, which, of course, turns out to be a surprise with even higher prices and more noise. He meets Rollo, a scientist and authority on the 1890s, which he regards as "charming."

Rollo tries to go back alone, but Mulligan jumps on him and they go back together. The 1890s turn out to be not entirely what Rollo thought of them. Mulligan, however, is relieved and has a new appreciation for his own time. One week later, he hears Rollo griping. ("This guy sounds worse than my mother-in-law," Mulligan observes through an intertitle). So he sets the helmet for 1960, puts it on Rollo's head, and sends him back to his own time.



Opening narration[edit]

Closing narration[edit]

Episode notes[edit]

  • The parts set in the 1890s are done in the style of a silent film with intertitle cards and feature only a soundtrack of a saloon piano (and, of course, Rod Serling's customary opening and closing narration). Much is made of the fact that Mulligan shows up in the 1960s with no pants due to his getting run over by a "high speed" bicycle and falling into a water trough, forcing him to remove the pants while they dry. A running gag has a pants-less Mulligan being chased by a policeman in both the past and the present.
  • One sequence, occurring almost immediately after traveling to what is (ostensibly) the present day, is a near exact replication of a gag Keaton introduced some forty-one years earlier in a Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle film entitled "The Garage".
  • Buster Keaton was one of the biggest stars of the silent era, starring in and devising elaborate stunts and gags for such classic comedies as The General and Steamboat Bill, Jr. His career suffered with the advent of sound films, and he spent decades struggling in Hollywood. This episode was intended as an homage to his early work.[1]
  • End-titles screen features the time-dial helmet.


  1. ^ "I met Buster Keaton through Bill Cox...and I thought "Gee, that would be wonderful to get Keaton into a Twilight Zone"-Richard Matheson. Zicree, Mark-Scott (1982). The Twilight Zone Companion. Bantam. pp. 260–261. ISBN 0-7607-5634-1. 
  • DeVoe, Bill. (2008). Trivia from The Twilight Zone. Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-136-0
  • Grams, Martin. (2008). The Twilight Zone: Unlocking the Door to a Television Classic. Churchville, MD: OTR Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9703310-9-0

External links[edit]