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October 29, 2010

James Wall, Captain Kangaroo’s “Mr. Baxter,” Dies at 92

In addition to his work as a performer, Wall worked for several decades as a stage manager for CBS in New York City.

James Wall, a stage manager and performer who played the role of Mr. Baxter on the children’s television series Captain Kangaroo, died October 27, 2010. He was 92.

According to news reports, Wall passed in his sleep after a short illness.

Wall, who had experience as a vaudeville performer, began working for Captain Kangaroo in 1962 as a stage manager. He eventually persuaded the show’s producers to create a role for him, and in 1968 he became its first black character.

When his recurring role on Captain Kangaroo ended in 1978, Wall remained at the CBS Broadcast Center in New York City as a stage manager until last year.

Productions he worked on included Face the Nation, 60 Minutes and NFL Today.

Two years ago he was recognized on the air for his 41st consecutive year as stage manager of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.

Wall also worked on political conventions, presidential inaugurations, election coverage and the space launches of the 1960s. He often collaborated with iconic CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite.

Wall, who grew up in New York, left his Manhattan home and went to sea as 15. During Prohibition he delivered sugar for New York bootlegger stills and eventually he gravitated toward vaudeville, where he found work as a singer and dancer. His performing took him around the country and even the Broadway stage.

He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, after which he attended college on the G.I. Bill.

In the 1950s he continued to work as a performer as well as a stage manager – sometimes on the same production. He was the second black stage manager hired by CBS.

In 1994, the Directors Guild of America honored Wall with its Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award, named after the director of such films as Patton, Planet of the Apes and Nicholas and Alexandra.

On October 21, 1999, James Wall had the distinction of being interviewed by the Television Academy Foundation’s Archive of American Television. During the four-hour interview, conducted in New York City by Michael Rosen, Wall candidly discussed his experiences as an African-American actor and stage manager in early television.

He worked on entertainment programs, sports and news programs, including CBS News with Walter Cronkite. Wall also spoke of his work on Captain Kangaroo, first as stage manager, and later as Mr. Baxter, a teacher on the program.

The entire interview is available online here.

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