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Ted Ross, a Black stage and screen entertainer, was born on this date in 1934.
Theodore “Ted” Roberts was from Zanesville, Ohio; his mother, Elizabeth Russell, a nightclub singer in the 1920s and 1930s, moved the family to Dayton when young Ross was seven. He loved the clubs on West Fifth Street--Dayton’s answer to Harlem in the first half of the 20th century. While in junior high, Ross, who was big for his age, would dress up and strut into the Owl Club and The Palace Theater's Midnight Rambles to see great acts such as Duke Ellington.
His nightclub exploits as a teenager wasn't very popular at home. He quit Roosevelt High in 1950 and enlisted in the Air Force. Two years later, at 18, he entered an amateur night contest at the Top Hat bar on Germantown Street. Home on furlough, he sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," won $5 that night, and found his calling. After leaving the military, Ross worked from Great Falls, Montana, to a strip bar in Los Angeles as a singer and emcee. There he landed his first stage role in Oscar Brown Jr.'s "Bigtime Buck White."
The musical began as a workshop in Watts and moved to New York in 1968. Ross starred in The Wiz and other Broadway productions, such as Purlie, Ain't Misbehavin, and Raisin in the Sun. His first film was Bingo Long's Traveling All-Stars, a baseball movie starring James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor. Films that followed included Ragtime, Amityville II, Police Academy, Stealing Home, and The Fisher King.
During the 1970s and 80s, Ross appeared on many TV shows, including Benson, The Jeffersons, and The Equalizer. In 1990, Ross played Troy Maxson in a Cincinnati production of August Wilson's Fences. It was the first time his family saw him perform on stage since that contest in 1952. Ross won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for portraying The Cowardly Lion in "The Wiz." He reprised the role in the 1978 film and its sequel.
His other credits include playing Bitterman, the chauffeur in Dudley Moore’s Arthur movies, and the recurring role of Dean Harris on The Cosby Show and A Different World. He returned to Dayton for good in 1997 and opened Your Place, a jazz club on West Third Street. Occasionally, Ross sat in, sang in his club, and performed as part of the Dayton Art Institutes Just Jazz series. He was honored by the city Wayman Chapel AME Church, the Miami Valley Fisk University Alumni Club, and WROU-FM as a Black History Month Achiever. In 1998, a stroke confined Ross to a bed.
The character actor best known for playing roles with good-natured dignity died in September 2002 at Good Samaritan Hospital and Health Center in Dayton. He was 68.