The Twilight Zone

Season 3 Episode 13

Once Upon a Time

Aired Unknown Dec 15, 1961 on CBS
out of 10
User Rating
109 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

Woodrow, a janitor living in the year 1890, accidentally activates a time traveling helmet which transports him to 1962 - then promptly breaks down.

Who was the Episode MVP ?

  • Do you like my sparkly helmet?

    "Once Upon a Time" is a delightful little example of hilarious slapstick humour, with a nice double act between the great Buster Keaton and Stanley Adams. I hadn't previously known that Keaton had ever appeared in a TZ episode, so this was a terrific surprise for me, in addition to that which I received when I realised that Adams was the actor who later played the trader Cyrano Jones in the "Star Trek" episode "The Trouble With Tribbles".

    I found myself chuckling throughout this story, although the first incident that had me roaring was when Mulligan was being told off by the policeman during the first silent section of the story. I commented to a friend who was watching with me, "I bet he's saying, 'F-you, copper'". Sure enough, the next dialogue board to appear just read, "Censored!". xD Another thing I loved was the ridiculously silly Heath Robinson-esque (if you're American, think "Rube Goldberg") appearance of the time helmet itself. The thing even had sparklers on it! :P Priceless.moreless
  • A janitor uses a time machine to travel to the future.

    The beginning of this episode is filmed in the fashion of a silent film. There is ragtime background music and people's words are printed to see. We are introduced to Mr. Woodrow Mulligan, a janitor who works for Professor Gilbert, a scientist. The time is 1890, so the way this episode is first shown makes us feel that we are really in that time. On the way to work, Mulligan is annoyed by many things: noise, high prices of goods, being blessed out by a policeman and knocked into a water trough. When he gets to Professor Gilbert's basement, he hangs up his pants to dry and begins his work. Meanwhile, Professor Gilbert and his assistant talk about their newest invention: a time helmet. One simply puts it on and turns the dial to the year they want to travel to. The wearer can go to another time for only thirty minutes. While the two scientist go off to celebrate, Mulligan decides to try it out. He turns the dial to 1960 and puts it on. He runs out into the street and ends up in a street in 1960. After arriving, the episode runs like a normal episode with noise and live speech. He loses the helmet and it is taken by a roller-skating boy. The boy runs into Rollo, another scientist, and the helmet falls off his head and he skates off. Mulligan finds the helmet and realizes it is broken. Mulligan explains the situation to Rollo and gets him to help fix it. They take it to a repairman who has less than twenty minutes to fix it. While waiting, Mulligan gets chased by a cop who sees that Mulligan has no pants on. With Rollo's help, he gets a new pair of pants. I find it very odd that Mulligan's new pants have a bunch of cash in them. Strangely, the repairman fixes the time helmet. However, Rollo decides to go back to 1890 in Mulligan's place. After a chase scene, both end up in 1890, silent movie status returned. After a week, Mulligan is still content to be home. Rollo, on the other hand, misses his own time and dislikes 1890. Seeing this, Mulligan activates the time helmet and sends Rollo home. I loved watching this episode. It has good music, time travel, humor and a moral lesson.moreless
Stanley Adams

Stanley Adams


Guest Star

James Flavin

James Flavin

First 1962 Policeman

Guest Star

Gil Lamb

Gil Lamb

Officer Flannagan

Guest Star

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

    • Despite the fact that someone can only travel in time for 30 minutes, and it's a major plot point, Rollo returns to his own time after spending a week in 1890.

  • QUOTES (3)

    • (Opening Narration)
      Narrator: Mr. Mulligan, a rather dour critic of his times, is shortly to discover the import of that old phrase, "Out of the frying pan, into the fire," said fire burning brightly at all times in the Twilight Zone.

    • Rollo: You don't understand. This man must get back to 1890.
      Repairman: Well, you're in the wrong block. This is only 1600.

    • (Closing Narration)
      Narrator: "To each his own" - so goes another old phrase to which Mr. Woodrow Mulligan would heartily subscribe, for he has learned, definitely the hard way, that there is much wisdom in a third old phrase which goes as follows: "Stay in your own backyard." To which it might be added, "and if possible, assist others to stay in theirs"--via, of course, the Twilight Zone.

  • NOTES (2)

    • Half of the episode was made to be just like a old silent movie, with captions and piano music.

    • Les Goodwins directed one sequence in this episode. After main photography had been completed, it was decided to add in the scenes in the repair shop. Goodwins, who had directorial experience and was pretty much always on staff and site, came down to do the pick ups.


    • Walter Jacque: Slapstick gags
      Buster Keaton was the uncredited writer of the episode. Many of the sight gags were taken directly from his silent films. Episode was part of the rebirth of Keaton's popularity.