By Dennis McLellan, Los Angeles Times
October 30, 2010
James E. "Jimmy" Wall, who played Captain Kangaroo's teacher neighbor, Mr. Baxter, on the classic CBS children's television show during the 1960s and '70s, has died. He was 92.
Wall, who also worked for nearly 50 years as a stage manager for CBS, died in his sleep Wednesday night in Manhattan after a short illness, the network reported.
An actor who once performed a dance act in clubs and theaters, Wall worked as a stage manager on Broadway before joining CBS as stage manager on the "Captain Kangaroo" show in 1962. He began playing Mr. Baxter on the weekday morning show in 1968 and played the character through the '70s.
It was Wall, an African American, who pestered the show's producers to include a black character on the long-running program that starred Bob Keeshan as the kindly Captain Kangaroo.
"I stayed on the case about not having a black performer or black guests on the show, because I said, 'Listen, this is America, and you are dealing with our leaders of tomorrow. They're the children. You have got to let them know what America is,'" he said in a video clip that aired on the "CBS Evening News" Thursday.
Not that he was a shoo-in. He had to audition for the role.
After his audition, Wall recalled in an interview on CBS' "The Saturday Early Show" in 2004, "the Captain came down and eased up to me. He says, 'You got the part.' He says, 'Not because we know you and like you; you did the best audition.'"
During his years at CBS, Wall was the stage manager for numerous CBS, CBS News and CBS Sports broadcasts, including the "CBS Evening News," "Face the Nation," "60 Minutes" and " NFL Today."
Although he semi-retired in 1988 at age 71, Wall continued to regularly fill in as a stage manager for the "CBS Evening News" and "60 Minutes" until 2009.
The year before, he was recognized on the air for his 41st consecutive year as stage manager for the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.
The son of a barber, Wall was born Dec. 12, 1917, in Wilmington, N.C., and moved with his family to Brooklyn in the late 1920s.
He was performing in a dance act when he was drafted into the Army during World War II. A regimental supply sergeant, he and another dancer put together a large show to entertain the troops in England before they crossed the English Channel.
After the war, he began acting and had roles on stage and in radio and live TV productions.
Wall, who was the second black stage manager hired by CBS, received the Directors Guild of America's Franklin J. Schaffner Achievement Award in 1994.
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