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Valley businessman, philanthropist Jack Ross dies

A longtime Valley businessman and philanthropist passed away last week. Jack Ross died in California from complications from Parkinson's disease. He was 85.

In the 1950s and '60s, Ross and his wife were fixtures on Phoenix television, and were among the most popular couples in the Valley.

Whenever Phoenix TV viewers heard the song, "They always call him Mr. Touchdown," they knew the ad was for Jack Ross Lincoln-Mercury in Mesa. The movie of the week on KPHO-TV Channel 5 was sponsored by the dealership.

KTAR's Pat McMahon knows why Ross bought the ads on the late-night movies.

"Nobody ever timed those commercials that late at night," McMahon said. "They could go on for minutes and minutes and minutes and nobody paid any attention at all."

This was long before cable TV, and viewers had only five stations to choose from. At that time, the TV stations signed off late at night and that movie, many times, was the only thing on TV.

Ross starred in those ads with his Acquanetta, who gained fame for starring in several B-movies. She was billed as the "Venezuelan Volcano," though she was born in Cheyenne, Wyo. to an Arapaho mother and a French-English-Cherokee father. She starred with Johnny Weissmuller in "Tarzan and the Leopard Woman", among other films.

She and Ross met in California, where he was a successful car salesman. The couple moved to Arizona when he bought the Lincoln-Mercury dealership in the 1950s.

McMahon remembers reacting to what he saw on his television when he first moved to Phoenix in the early 1960s. "I said, 'I can't believe it! It's the lady in all of the jungle movies!' "

He said Acquanetta was a stunner.

"She was a very, very glamorous, very exotic looking woman. She had an amazing wardrobe, for which they gave credits at the end of the commercials every time they were on."

Once, Ross asked McMahon to do a commercial with Acquanetta.

"I was to make my entrance and stand next to Acquanetta," said McMahon. "As we were rehearsing, Jack said ‘But you're so much shorter than she is.' And I said, ‘Yes, that's the way God intended us to be and she's wearing heels and I'm not.' So he brought out a box for me to stand on, which was really peculiar because I walked in and suddenly grew three and a half inches!"

Away from the cameras, Ross and Acquanetta used their local fame to make a difference in the community. She raised money for the Phoenix Symphony, the Stagebrush Theater and disadvantaged youth.

Ross ran for governor twice, but lost both times. He founded Mesa Lutheran Hospital and helped bring Motorola to the Valley.

"He was a very successful businessman," McMahon said. "He was very easy to get along with. Everybody liked Jack. As much as anything, I think, people remember Jack as the guy who was on television all of the time, and off the air, he was a major contributor to the welfare of the community. He really cared a great deal about it."

The couple had four children. They divorced in the 1980s and Ross sold his Lincoln-Mercury dealership to Tex Earnhardt. Acquanetta lived in Ahwatukee. She was 83 when she died of complications from Alzheimer's in 2004.

Related Links

You can learn more about Acquanetta at JungleFrolics: Acquanetta

To see a scene of Acquanetta in "Tarzan and Leopard Woman" go to Tarzan and the Leopard Woman

To hear the song "They always call him Mr. Touchdown" go to Mr. Touchdown

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About the Author


Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I am married to my wife Rene', who is a librarian in the Washington school district. During free time, I may be found playing basketball in the driveway with my son, Devin. He's also keeping me busy with school, Little League, and playing in chess tournaments around the Valley.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: Doug Oldham gospel concert in the 1970s at the old East High School in Phoenix.

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix. We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.

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