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Once Upon a Time (The Twilight Zone)

"Once Upon a Time"
The Twilight Zone episode
Buster Keaton in Once Upon a Time
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 78
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 actors

Buster Keaton: Woodrow Mulligan
Stanley Adams: Rollo
Jesse White: Repairman
James Flavin: First 1962 Policeman
Gil Lamb: Officer Flannagan
Milton Parsons: Professor Gilbert
Warren Parker: Clothing Store Manager
Harry Fleer: Second 1962 Policeman
George E. Stone: Fenwick

Episode chronology
← Previous
"The Jungle"
Next →
"Five Characters in Search of an Exit"
List of Twilight Zone episodes

"Once Upon a Time" is a 1961 episode of the American television anthology series The Twilight Zone.


Woodrow Mulligan (Buster Keaton) is a grumpy janitor in 1890, dissatisfied with his time and place: a backwater town called "Harmony" with seventeen-cent cuts of meat, two-dollar hats, livestock freely roaming the streets, and penny-farthing bicycles that knock him down while going the speed limit (eight miles per hour). 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 (Stanley Adams), 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 when he hears Rollo griping ("This guy sounds worse than my mother-in-law," Mulligan observes through an intertitle), he sets the helmet for 1960, puts it on Rollo's head, and sends him back to his own time.

This episode was one of the Twilight Zone's comedy episodes. The parts set in the 1890s have no sound, silent film intertitle cards (except, of course, for Rod Serling) and a saloon piano. 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. A running gag involves a helpless Mulligan being chased by a policeman in both the past and the present.

Episode Notes

  • 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.


  • 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

  • Internet Movie Database
  • episode page

Template:Twilight Zone episodes

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