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.]