The beloved Mr. Baxter (James Wall) of Captain Kangaroo passed away on Wednesday, Oct. 27, after a short illness. He began working on the Captain Kangaroo show as a stage manager in 1962. Over the next four years, Wall persuaded the producer of the show to add him to the cast as the first black character in 1968. Mr. Baxter entertained us on the Captain Kangaroo show until 1978, when he ventured into new territory.
Captain Kangaroo was a favorite television show for many individuals. The characters captivated the young audience from 1955 to 1984 on CBS. For those individuals not familiar with Captain Kangaroo, the show was equivalent to Sesame Street, which was first produced by the crew who filmed the Captain Kangaroo show. Characters, neighbors, puppets, learning activities and cartoons added variety to the show and spurred the way for many of the modern educational programs.
Memories of the Captain Kangaroo show would not be complete without mentioning the wide case of characters. Characters included Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Green Jeans, Debbie, Dennis, Mr. Baxter, Banana Man, Orville the Dragon, Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, Miss Worm, Miss Frog, Dancing Bear and Grandfather Clock. Every character enhanced the playfulness and learning environment created by the produces of the show.
Growing up in a small rural farming community, Mr. Baxter was a character that intrigued my curiosity. He looked different from the people I was used to seeing because I was from the typical rural community that was all Caucasian. Mr. Baxter was nice, generous, smart and always had time to play with the other characters on the show. This contradicted many of the stories being told to the children of the community dealing with the African American race during that time period. We heard many stories of the riots, gang activity, and fights breaking out between the African Americans, civilians and police in the urban areas. Mr. Baxter provided a role model for the children of the 1960s to show that the stories being reported were not correct of all African Americans. He began breaking down the barriers to racial discrimination that have plagued the United States for many decades.
Mr. Baxter was Captain Kangaroo’s neighbor and the friendly teacher who taught us all about numbers, letters and learning. Mr. Baxter was kind, gentle and a favorite character for many children who watched the show. He brought us the humanity of people who look different than those we were accustomed. The lessons learned were taken into the school system and helped the young better understand the concepts taught within the school systems.
James Earl Wall will be missed by many individuals. His varied positions as an actor and stage manager for TV shows like Captain Kangaroo and Walter Cronkite provide a glimpse into the genius Wall possessed.
E On-line: Bye-Bye, Mr. Baxter – Captain Kangaroo Cohort Dies
You Tube: James Wall – Archive Interview Part 4
Entertainment AP: James Wall, Captain Kangaroo’s “Mr. Baxter,” dies