"Once Upon a Time" is the 78th episode of The Twilight Zone.

Episode Details

Opening Narration

"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. "

Episode Summary

Woodrow Mulligan (Buster Keaton) 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 (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.

Closing Narration

"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's 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 their's' - via, of course, The Twilight Zone."

Preview for Next Week's Story

Next week on The Twilight Zone, you'll find yourself inexplicably entangled in this dark dungeon. You'll meet an incredible group of people who, like you, will be quite unable to explain how they got there, why they got there or how they're going to get out. And, at the end, we're going to belt you with one of the most surprising endings we've ever had. Next week, "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" on The Twilight Zone.

Production Companies


  • Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) (1959) (USA) (TV) (original airing)


  • This episode is one of the few to be like a silent film, up to the time change.

External Links

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