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 byNorman Z. McLeod (with an uncredited sequence by Les Goodwins)
Written byRichard Matheson
Featured musicWilliam Lava (piano score played by Ray Turner)
Production code4820
Original air dateDecember 15, 1961
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
← Previous
"The Jungle"
Next →
"Five Characters in Search of an Exit"
The Twilight Zone (1959 TV series) (season 3)
List of The Twilight Zone (1959 TV series) episodes

"Once Upon a Time" is episode 78 of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone. It originally aired on December 15, 1961. It features early film star Buster Keaton in one of his later roles, as an unlikely time traveler, and the opening and closing scenes pay homage to the silent films for which he was famous.

Opening narration[edit]


Woodrow Mulligan is a grumpy man in 1890, dissatisfied with what his world has come to: the nation's budget surplus is only 85 million dollars, prices are shockingly high to him, and his once-quiet town of Harmony, New York is bustling with livestock roaming the streets, which are full of traffic such as horse-drawn carriages, and penny-farthing bicycles zipping along at the speed limit of 8 mph. A collision with a bicyclist dumps him in a water trough, forcing him to take off his pants to dry them when he gets to his place of work.

He works as janitor for Professor Gilbert, who has just invented a "time helmet", which can transport the wearer to another decade for 30 minutes. Mulligan tries it on and it sends him to 1962; Harmony is now a busy city with streets full of cars, all sorts of urban noise, and astonishingly high prices. In the chaos he loses the helmet, which is picked up by a boy on roller skates, requiring Mulligan to give chase on a contemporary bicycle. He recovers the damaged helmet as he runs into Rollo, a scientist. They take the helmet to a "fix it" shop, where Rollo and the proprietor argue over repairs, while Mulligan wanders off and acquires a pair of pants by slapstick means.

Rollo regards the 1890s as an idyllic period, and wants to go back there in Mulligan's place. He runs off with the helmet, but Mulligan catches him at the last instant and they both go back. Mulligan is relieved to be home, and Rollo finds it charming. A week later, Mulligan has found a new appreciation for life in 1890, but Rollo is dismayed at the lack of technology and modern comforts. Annoyed by Rollo's griping, Mulligan sets the helmet for 1962, puts it on Rollo's head, and sends him back to his own time.

Closing narration[edit]


Episode notes[edit]

  • The parts set in the 1890s are done in the style of a silent film with intertitles and feature only a soundtrack of a saloon piano (and Rod Serling's customary opening and closing narration). Much is made of the fact that Mulligan shows up in 1962 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 titled 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]