James "Jimmy" Wall, Captain Kangaroo's knowledgeable neighbor, "Mr. Baxter," on the children's show during the 1960s and 1970s and a beloved character around the studios of the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan, has died at the age of 92. Wall worked as a stage manager at CBS for nearly 50 years. He lived in Manhattan and died in his sleep Wednesday night after a short illness.
Scroll down to watch a CBS Evening News tribute to Wall.
Wall had been the stage manager for the Captain Kangaroo show since 1962, when he joined CBS, before persuading the show's producers to create its first black character. The talented former vaudevillian with a wonderful voice and kindly demeanor got the regular role of Mr. Baxter in 1968. He played Baxter and another recurring role on the show for 10 years.
During the same time, Wall was the stage manager for many CBS, CBS News and CBS Sports broadcasts, including the CBS Evening News, Face the Nation, 60 Minutes and NFL Today. In 2008, he was recognized on the air for his 41st consecutive year as stage manager of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.
One of the stage manager's many roles is the countdown to air for a live broadcast. In a rich baritone that could call a busy newsroom to attention, Wall counted the time to air for the likes of Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather. "Two minutes to air," began his count.
Eventually those in the newsroom heard, "In five," followed by Wall's count down until a flip of his hand indicated the anchor was on live television.
Wall semi-retired in 1988 at the age of 71, but continued to work regularly as a fill-in stage manager for the CBS Evening News and 60 Minutes, showing up - always on time - as often as several times a week right until 2009, when he was 91.
In one of Mike Wallace's last tapings, the 60 Minutes correspondent made reference to his own advanced age and that he was the senior person on set. Wall had to correct him, reminding him that he had Wallace by five months.
Known by thousands of CBS employees through the years, Wall was a person whose eclectic life and fascinating career made for a never-ending string of stories. He went to sea as 15-year-old, delivered sugar for New York bootleggers' stills during Prohibition, and became a singer and dancer in a series of Vaudeville acts that took him around the country and put him on Broadway stages before he was drafted by the Army. He went to Europe where he became a master sergeant involved in USO shows that he staged throughout the continent.
Walls attended college on the G.I. Bill when he left the Army and continued his love affair with the theater through the 1950s. He played various roles in New York stage productions, often stage managing and performing in the same show, before joining CBS to become the second black stage manager hired by the network. The Director's Guild of America gave Wall its Franklin J. Schaffner achievement Award in 1994.
James Earl Wall was born Dec. 12, 1917, in Wilmington, N.C. He lived there until he was 9 years old, when his father, a barber, moved the family to New York City. Young "JE," as his mother sometimes called him, attended public schools in Brooklyn, including a commercial high school where he took vocational art courses.
He is survived by his wife, Dolly Wall, whom he married in 1942.