December 15 in Twilight Zone History: Celebrating the 1961 premiere of 'Once Upon a Time'

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Dec 15, 2017

Today, December 15, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1961 premiere of Buster Keaton's "Once Upon a Time."

Comedy was not the show's strong suit, but I have fond memories of this third-season episode. If you didn't know the show, bumping into the opening would have made you think you were watching an homage to the silent era. And that's just what director Norman Z. McLeod was going for.

Buster Keaton plays grouchy 19th Century janitor Woodrow Mulligan, a man looking for peace and quiet in "Once Upon a Time."

Keaton, the comedy genius, portrays grouchy Woodrow Mulligan, a 19th-century janitor who works for an inventor who has just created a time machine helmet. All of this early footage was shot silent, with a delightful period musical score by William Lava. Once Keaton dons the helmet and arrives in the year 1961, we drop the silent routine and score and get the full-blown cacophony of modern times.

Searching for peace and quiet, time traveling 19th century janitor Woodrow Mulligan (Buster Keaton) ends up in the noisy 20th Century in "Once Upon a Time."

This episode had to be an influence on the creative team that put together Back to the Future in 1985. Keaton is hysterical and gets able support from Stanley Adams and Jesse White. And director McLeod was a jewel, with a pedigree that stretched from the Marx Brothers (Horse Feathers, Monkey Business) to W.C. Fields (It's a Gift) and Danny Kaye (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty)

So let's hoist a 19th-century beer to the creative team that melded time travel with great comic timing in The Twilight Zone.

Rollo (Stanley Adams, center) and the repairman (Jesse White, right) try to make sense of Woodrow (Buster Keaton, left) in "Once Upon a Time."