Jerrybrice's Blog
The intersection of animation, entertainment, and politics

First Black Character On Captain Kangaroo,”Mr. Baxter” Actor James Wall Dies at 92.

Pioneering vaudevillian and the first black character portrayed on the popular CBS children’s program ‘Captain Kangaroo’, James Wall,92, has passed away, taking years of stories, anecdotes, and trailblazing experiences that advanced the opportunities for African-American entertainers and behind the scenes players throughout the entertainment business,and profoundly at a nationally broadcasted television network.(Source)

 

Jim Wall (center) and cast of the "Captain Kangaroo Show"

Jim Wall (center) and cast of the "Captain Kangaroo Show"

CBS News is reporting that Mr. Walls died Wednesday after a short illness, and that they are sad to report the news of his passing.

James Wall had been an employee at the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan where he worked as a stage manager  for more than 50 years, until last year. He worked as a stage manager for shows such as 60 Minutes, Face The Nation, CBS Evening News, and NFL Today.

CBS Studios in New York

CBS Studios in New York

 

In 2008, he was recognized, on the air, for his 41st consecutive year as stage manager of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.(Source)

He started off as the stage manage for the Captain Kangaroo series in 1962 because he could not find enough work as an actor,and eventually persuaded the show’s producers,by joking and kidding with them, to add a black character to the ensemble, which they did in 1968.

To his delight , the producers decided to cast James in the role of Mr. Baxter, because they felt that his calm demeanor and soothing baritone voice was a perfect fit for the character, and James played him consistently for the next 10 years.

Animator Jerry Brice directing a crew on set of a music video...

Animator Jerry Brice directing a crew on set of a music video...

He also starred with the Captain and Mr. Greenjeans in a serialized production entitled “The Missing Paint Mystery” (shown on the program from December, 1969 until 1977; with the exception of 1976) in which the trio travels to Curaçao (a Caribbean island) to confront the playfully evil villain, Garumph (played by Cosmo Allegretti).(Wiki)

stage manager is the one who has the overall responsibility for the smooth execution of a stage or theatrical production. CBS liked James in the role as stage manager because he was primarily responsible of counting down the seconds before the cameras go live on the set, and his rich baritone voice demanded attention, and he got it in that role for over 50 years.

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He worked with the likes of Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Dick Enberg, and he was a vital part of the director’s team, behind the scenes on several television productions.

Kieth Greer is a stage manager...a part of James Wall's legacy.

Keith Greer is a stage manager...a part of James Wall's legacy.

He played various roles in New York stage productions, often stage managing and performing in the same show, before joining CBS where he became the second black stage manager hired by the network. (CBS)

James Wall was also a very intelligent man, seizing every opportunity to push him closer to his goal, and the role of Mr. Baxter encouraged many African-American children to pursue a career as an actor or behind the scenes professional in the television industry.By design, a valued and reliable stage manager, James was able to parlay his influence with the producers and writers of the Captain Kangaroo series to not only create a black character, but he was also able to portray the character in front of the cameras as well.

It was truly a groundbreaking achievement!

James Wall’s story is truly an American story of success, perseverance and personal achievement, that should not be lost, or over looked by today’s black youth.He definitely paved the way for countless black entertainment professionals all throughout the broadcast television industry, and for all the current and past African-American employees of CBS, a company that I had the pleasure of working for in the children’s television department a few years ago.

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James Wall was the uncle to the late character actor Steve James, who portrayed Kung Fu Joe in the 1988 hit comedy/action film ‘I’m Gonna Get You Sucka’ directed by Keenan Ivory Wayans.

Actor Steve James was the nephew of James Wa

Actor Steve James was the nephew of James Wall.

Steve James passed away at a very young age in 1993, a victim of pancreatic cancer.(Wiki)

The story of the life of James Baxter should be studied and researched by those in the T.V. business currently, but it should be a personal requirement for all black people in the entertainment business currently.(Video)

Curt Flood

Curt Flood

Just as in the case of the late Curt Flood, the black major league baseball player that sacrificed his career so that a player can enjoy the financial benefits of free agency, James Baxter opened doors, and tore down traditional racial barriers that set a very low glass ceiling, and primarily opened closed doors for the African-Americans to not only see ourselves on T.V., but to also work behind the cameras,calling the shots, coordinating , and yes…using our vast mental ability to orchestrate a multi-million dollar production for a major network.

I know that many of our youth or current crop of African American’s in the entertainment business try to assimilate,disassociate from, or “move on” from celebrating our trailblazing path that our elders have laid down for us, but,we will never be white, and no matter how much you run away from your path, you will always be black, and there were times when your blackness kept you out of the entertainment business in a significant way, no matter how intelligent or talented you are.

If not for the strength and perseverance of our ancestors like James Wall,then none of us would be enjoying our current status, at any level, working today in the film and T.V. business.

James Wall is survived by his wife, Dolly Wall, whom he married in 1942.

He will be missed, and may he rest in peace.

The pioneering stage manager/actor James Wall.Dead at 92..may he rest in peace!

The pioneering stage manager/actor James Wall.Dead at 92..may he rest in peace!

For more on the life of James Wall,click on these links…

TV Guide

NY Daily News

E!

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