James Wall, the calm, kind and wise “Mr. Baxter” on the children’s television series, “Captain Kangaroo”, died Oct. 27 in his New York City home at the age of 92, according to the New York Daily News.
In addition to playing “Mr. Baxter” on the show, Wall also served as stage manager for CBS for more than 40 years. Such shows as “60 Minutes”, “The NFL Today” and broadcasts of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships were all navigated under Wall’s watchful eye.
Wall worked with legendary broadcasters such as Walter Cronkite, Dick Enberg and Dan Rather, to name a few. He was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Director’s Guild of America in 1994.
Wall’s “Mr. Baxter” was a regular on “Captain Kangaroo” from 1968 until 1978. According to the New York Daily News, “although Wall’s recurring role ended in 1978, he remained a beloved fixture at the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan where he worked as a stage manager until last year.”
Wall also served as stage manager for “Captain Kangaroo”. An early clip of the television show in black and white is available on YouTube. Before beginning his stint on television, Wall enjoyed an extensive career on Vaudeville and Broadway. In the 1950s he worked with such acting legends as Ricardo Montalban, Bea Arthur and Gloria DeHaven.
In an 1999 interview for the Archive of American Television, Wall recounted his life’s journey beginning with the story of his childhood growing up in North Carolina and then subsequently moving to New York. He described this move as a life-changing event. The first part of the interview is available on YouTube . The interview in its entirety is in nine parts.
Memories of ‘Mr. Baxter’
Fans will most remember “Mr. Baxter” because of his calming voice. Even as he was older and his voice was clearly strained with age, as evident in the 1999 interview, he still had the power to lull those listening into a relaxed, calm state of well-being. Wall’s stature and voice were definitely unique. His “Mr. Baxter” character often served as a beacon for audiences as he provided a sense of comfort and security through his mere countenance.
That one-of-kind ability was what “Mr. Baxter” was all about. When things got hectic on the set of “Captain Kangaroo”, “Mr. Baxter” would be the voice of calm and reason. Just as a stage manager gets things in order on a television studio set, his “Mr. Baxter” character was the embodiment of Wall’s off-screen job as well.
The most fascinating portions of his interview with the Archives of American Television were his thoughts about Prohibition, racism, World War II’s Battle of the Bulge and being the first African American stage manager on Broadway. He was, in essence, a living monument of history.
Rest in peace, Mr. Wall. Even though your passing has caused the lights on Broadway to dim, your bright spirit will live on forever through your brilliant work and beloved characters.
Standora, Leo, “‘Captain Kangaroo’ star James Wall, best known as TV show’s Mr. Baxter, dies at 92”, New York Daily News.
Archive of American Television, “James Wall-Archive Interview Part 1 of 9”, YouTube.com.
YouTube, “James Wall Archive Interview”, YouTube.com.