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.
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