The Death of Captain Z-Ro

Pioneering television actor Roy Steffensen, who starred in the 1950s children’s space opera Captain Z-Ro, died in 2012 but without any particular notice taken in the sf community.

Captain Z-Ro first went on the air in 1951 on San Francisco station KRON. His character was a scientist working in a remote laboratory to safeguard mankind.

The sets and costumes were modeled on the look of other popular series like Captain Video and Space Patrol, and comics such as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. However, the stories sound like the forerunner of Sherman and Peabody. Captain Z-Ro owned a time machine, the ZX-99,that he used to monitor history. Whenever it looked like some important event was going wrong, like King John not signing the Magna Carta, he would send his teenaged assistant Jet back in time to intervene.

Time travel was represented by a special effect consisting of a simple dissolve shot of flashing lights and blinking oscilloscopes among innumerable levers and knobs.

The 15-minute show was a local success and after three years it was picked up for national syndication and expanded to a 30-minute format. Original episodes continued to be made until 1956, and the show remained on the air until 1960. Some of these episodes are available on YouTube.

According to the Wikipedia, each week the announcer would sign off:

Be sure to be standing by when we again transmit you to the remote location on planet Earth where Captain Z-Ro and his associates will conduct another experiment in time and space.

Roy Steffensen was born in 1914, and attended high school in Palo Alto. At the end of his life he passed away in Woodland Hills, CA survived by Kim, his wife of 75 years, their two daughters and 8 grandchildren.

[Thanks to James H. Burns for the story.]

9 thoughts on “The Death of Captain Z-Ro

  1. Surely I’m not the only one who sees in Captain Z-Ro not just Sherman and Peabody, but a proto-Dr. Who!

  2. Captain Z-Ro seems to have been a partial inspiration for the series Quantum Leap, acknowledged by a clip from the former being shown in the final episode of the latter.

  3. Fromageux, as they might–but don’t–say in Quebec. Unfortunately I never heard of, much less saw, Captain Z-Ro when I was a kid–but I wish I had. I like his moustache and little goatee, but I never did understand why the space heroes of that era had fins on their helmets.

  4. It’s interesting to note that he did the series as, “Roy Steffens…”

    In the days before Youtube, it seems to me this was a rare, little seen series, after its original run, and wasn’t even widely available on video… Those who had seen it said it was ahead of, ahem, its time… Happily, there’s an extraordinary DVD collection from Mill Creek, CLASSIC SCI-FI TV, which includes ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY television shows, for about ten bucks (!), including twenty-four episodes of CAPTAIN Z-RO.

    http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Sci-Fi-TV-150-Episodes/dp/B001LQQJ66

  5. I never saw this as a kid, never heard of this guy. And why does it say “OZ” on his helmet?

  6. I never saw it before, either, as it first went on the air when I was three months old, but it’s utterly charming.

    The Fifth Doctor went back to stop The Master from preventing King John signing the Magna Carta, but I think we’re dealing with two separate parallel universes here.

    The sign on the Motorway (that’s Interstate Highway to Americans) running from London to Reading, past Windsor Castle, has a green-with-reflective-letters sign which says

    “Runnymead

    Magna Carta signing site

    This exit”

    or words to that effect — I saw it in both directions in 2002.

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