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Longtime CBS News Stage Manager James ‘Jimmy’ Wall Dies at 92

A regular and friendly presence at CBS News for nearly 50 years, James “Jimmy” Wall, has died, the network says.

Wall is best known to the public as “Mr. Baxter,” the next door neighbor of “Captain Kangaroo,” but Wall was also a veteran stage manager for CBS programming, including the “CBS Evening News,” “60 Minutes” and “Face the Nation.”

He semi-retired in 1988, but continued to work as a fill-in stage manager on a number of programs, up until last year.

“Jimmy’s stories were legend because they came out of a rich life that was so colorful and lived so fully,” wrote CBS News & Sports president Sean McManus in a memo to employees. “From Vaudeville to television, from Wilmington, N.C. to Paris and New York, Jimmy had a lot to talk about – and be proud of.

“We’ll miss the wonderful voice, the bright smile and the guy who called you “Partner,” because if you needed anything, you could always count on him.”

More information, after the jump.

JAMES (JIMMY) WALL, CAPTAIN KANGAROO’S “MR. BAXTER” AND LONGTIME STAGE MANAGER FOR CBS NEWS, DIES AT 92

James (Jimmy) Wall, Captain Kangaroo’s knowledgeable neighbor “Mr. Baxter” on the children’s show during the 1960s and 70s and a beloved character around the studios of  CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan, where he worked as a stage manager for nearly 50 years, has died at the age of 92.  He lived in Manhattan and died in his sleep last night (27) after a short illness.

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.  Wall, a 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 until 1978.

At 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, NFL TODAY and in 2008, he was recognized on the air for his 41st consecutive year as stage manager of the U.S. OPEN TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIPS.  He also stage managed coverage of political conventions, presidential inaugurations, election coverage and space launches of the 1960s.

The stage manager’s role is to be the director’s eyes and ears on the set in addition to other tasks, most prominent of which was 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 as stage manager for THE CBS EVENING NEWS from the 1960s through the 1980s.  “TWO MINUTES TO AIR”  began his count and eventually, “IN FIVE,” he would intone, and 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 up until last year, 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.  Wallace’s old friend Jimmy had to correct him, reminding him that he had him 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.  Wall went to sea as 15 yr-old, had delivered sugar for New York bootlegger’s 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.

He was a card player, a pool shark and an avid golfer who boasted he could shoot his age and did, still hitting the links after his 90th birthday.

Wall 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, NC.  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, VT  (Dolly) Wall, whom he married in 1942.

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