S. JOHN ROSS
THE SILHOUETTE MAN
AN AMERICAN SOLDIER
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WW2

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It is with regret that I advise that 89 year old S. John Ross passed away on
Sunday 24 August 2008. He was missing at the Brisbane Ekka in mid August 2008.

 

"He was not tall in stature, but he was giant in Australian entertainment." - Ross Eastgate

 

A young Sebastian John Ross

 


Photo:- Peter Dunn

S. John Ross, the "Silhouette Man" at the Brisbane
Exhibition (Ekka) on Saturday 11 August 2007

 

S. John Ross is reported to have often said "I've never revealed what the 'S' stands for. It's my trademark, only the Tax Office knows." He was born Sebastian John Ross in Detroit, USA on 25 April 1919.

Sebastian Ross left school and worked and trained with the silhouette artist Budd-Jack for three years. They covered the various fairs of the northern states of the USA. S. John Ross later worked in Hollywood. Some of his early celebrity silhouettes included Stan Laurel, Al Jolson, Spencer Tracey and Mickey Rooney. Some other famous silhouettes that he has done are of Vivian Leigh, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nicole Kidman, Sir Robert Menzies and Queen Elizabeth II.

 


From S. John Ross Collection

Clippings from his high school days 1937

 


From S. John Ross Collection

Caption written by S. John Ross "My first professional Store Promotion Sams Cut Rate, Detroit 1937"

 


From S. John Ross Collection

Caption written by S. John Ross "My first professional Store Promotion Sams Cut Rate, Detroit 1937"

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross in 1938

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross at Long Beach, California in 1939

 

I had a very brief chat with S. John Ross at the Brisbane Exhibition on Saturday 11 August 2007. I remember him well from my boyhood days in Townsville attending the Townsville show. I remember mum and dad both had their silhouettes cut out by S. John Ross at the Townsville Show, probably back in the late 1950's or early 1960's. 

I had previously heard a rumour that he had been an American soldier in Australia during WW2. When I spotted him in his usual location in the show bag pavilion at the Brisbane Ekka, I briefly asked him was the story true. "Yes", he said "I was here, I was at Lennons Hotel". I think he said he was in the Special Services in the 927th? or something like that. I should have written it down.

 

Sebastian John Ross

 


From S. John Ross Collection

1940's self portrait of S. John Ross

 

Staff Sergeant S. John Ross came to Australia as an American soldier in 1942 after serving initially in the Philippines. His US Army Service No. may have been 39017667 - can anyone please confirm. If this Service No. was his, he enlisted at Fort MacArthur, San Pedro, California on 23 January 1942. This record for a Sebastian J. Ross (#39017667) indicates he was born in Michigan in 1919 and that his civilian occupation code was "Artists, sculptor and teachers of art" and that he had attended college for one year.

S. John Ross has indicated that his job in Australia during WW2 was to look after celebrity VIPs like Bob Hope and Jack Benny. He managed the U.S. driving pool in Base Section 7 in Sydney. He was based in the Grace Building in Sydney which was Base Section 7 Headquarters. His unit apparently needed some good drivers to drive the celebrities around, so he requested some lady drivers from the WAAAF. One of the 10 WAAAF's provided went on to become his wife Phyllis Counsell who he married in February 1945. Their first son John Leyton Ross was born in 1946.

Florence Phyllis Counsell (WAAAF Service No. 93685), was born in Lawson, New South Wales on 16 Dec 1918. Phyllis enlisted in the WAAAFs at Hazelbrook on 15 April 1942. Aircraftwoman Florence Phyllis Counsell was discharged from the WAAAFs on 25 May 1943 whilst based at 2 Embarkation Depot, at Bradfield Park in New South Wales.  

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross cutting a silhouette in 1943 in his US Army uniform

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross cutting a silhouette in 1944 with a few admirers watching on

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross cutting a silhouette in 1945

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross - hard at work in 1945

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross - His Tool of Trade. Note the ornate ring on his left hand.

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross at work in 1947

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross at work in Gladstone in1948

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross and his stand at the Cairns Show in 1948

 


From S. John Ross Collection

Close-up of the above photo at the Cairns Show in 1948

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross at the Charters Towers Show in 1949

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross and his silhouette at Long Beach, California in 1950

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross in1954

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross at Luna Park in 1958

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross at Luna Park, Sydney in 1963

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross with Eric Baume in 1966

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross in 1973 cutting a silhouette for a young unidentified girl (is this you? - please contact me)

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross in 1974 cutting a silhouette for another young unidentified girl (is this you? - please contact me)

 


From S. John Ross Collection

A happy S. John Ross in 1980

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross at work in the 1980s

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross at work in the 1986

 


From S. John Ross Collection

S. John Ross with his sons John Ross and Philip Ross

 


Photo:- Peter Dunn

87 year old S. John Ross at the Brisbane Ekka on 11 August 2007

 

Silhouette and Character Analysis
of General Douglas MacArthur by
S. John Ross in Brisbane on 16 June 1944
probably completed at Lennons Hotel

 

Sebastian John Ross returned to the United States with his family after the war, however he liked Australia and its friendly people so much that they returned to Australia. He first returned to Australia on the SS Lurline on 18 March 1946 to live at Falcon Avenue, Hazelbrook, New South Wales with his wife Florence Phyllis Ross and their first son, John Leyton Ross. Their second son, Philip Ross was born in 1953.

There is an "Application for Registration by Alien Entering Australia" record in National Archives of Australia that shows that Sebastian John Ross made multiple arrivals back in Australia after travelling overseas on a number of occasions. He arrived back in Sydney on the SS Aorangi on 20 March 1950 after one of these trips overseas. He left Sydney on 28 April 1955 and returned to Australia on 25 July 1955. For another one of these return journeys, he left Sydney possibly for the USA on 28 April 1960 and returned to Australia on 24 June 1960 to live indefinitely with his wife Phyllis in New South Wales.

With the help of Jim Sharman (Senior), S. John Ross started touring the Australian show circuits in about 1948, cutting out silhouettes for the people of Australia. Over a 60 year period he became a legend at the various shows around Australia and in 2006 he was named an "Ekka Legend" at the Brisbane Exhibition. He was often heard to say that he would "rather be a living legend than a dead one."

S. John Ross became the resident silhouette artist at Sydney's Luna Park in the early 1950s where he worked when not touring the shows. His time at Luna Park came to an end in 1979 following the tragic Ghost Train fire at Luna Park. In more recent years he featured at Sydney's Centrepoint Tower (Sydney Tower).

Ross Eastgate, a military historian and journalist, told me his memories of S. John Ross on 28 August 2008 as follows:-

"I seem to remember him from about 1955-56! He was at the Bundaberg Show doing his stuff, and my Dad would stop to watch him. I was a pre-schooler, then remember seeing him for years afterwards. I last saw him (and spoke with him) in Mackay, North Queensland, about three years ago. He was not tall in stature, but he was giant in Australian entertainment."

Ovid Di Fiore, a member of Photo Unit 1, a photographic detachment of the 832nd Signal Service Company, Signal Section, USASOS which had their barracks at historic Newstead House at Breakfast Creek during WW2, told me his memories of S. John Ross on 29 August 2008 as follows:-

"I knew John Ross during WW2. He worked for a time at the Grace Building in Sydney which was the headquarters for Base Section 7. I remember him cutting out silhouettes for many individuals including myself. He was a very likeable man and it was a pleasure for me to know him. I am sorry about his passing. He was stationed in Sydney during the latter part of 1942 through early 1943. I lost contact with him when I was sent to Hollandia in 1944."

Ernie Cox, an Australian son of an American soldier who served in Rockhampton during WW2, told me his memories of S. John Ross on 29 August 2008 as follows:-

"Thanks for the info Peter. Sad news and the end of an era.  A couple of years ago we were at the tower in Sydney and he was working as he has done for all those years. He did one of both my wife and I. I also have one he did of me when a five year old in Rocky in 1948. He said he first started his business in Aus at that time at the Rocky show. We had a long talk and boy he was good at it. He was Army Air Force. I cannot remember all he told us but one comes to mind. Dean Martin had a liking for neck ties...but only if he stole them. Was well known to all concerned and generally his manager managed to sort it out when it happened."

Peter Murray in Townsville told me his memories of S. John Ross on 30 August 2008 as follows:-

"That’s sad news. I have one of his works of art (of myself) somewhere. I spoke to him at the Townsville Show about 3 years ago – and I think he said it was his 50th consecutive year he had been there. We had quite a chat about how things had changed over that time. I think he said that the Shows used to provide him space at no cost. But by 2005 his little stand was costing him $600.00. Then with travel expenses and his accommodation (he used Hotels) he had to do a lot of silhouettes to even look like cutting square. It had become just a way of life for him – just for his enjoyment of travel, talking to people and his work – that kept him going."

Ken Harkins told me his memories of S. John Ross on 30 August 2008 as follows:-

"Don't know what John's unit was, ( I was only 8-9 years old), but he was connected to troop entertainment. He was billeted at my aunt's hostel at 37 Peel St, South Brisbane during the war, and made a lot of visits to New Guinea with the entertainment group. He continue to stay with her for many years after the war, when he was in Brisbane until she died in 1981."

"My aunt's name was Mrs Erna Campbell. She owned the serviced rooms, and had many US soldiers billeted there, for most of the war."

"John often got into 'trouble' with her, because he used to let me wear his gun and ammo belt. They became very good friends over the years. (She was the mother figure)."

"He had a marked influence on me, as he gave me a lot of advise on how I should mould my future life. - and it worked! At one stage he wanted to make me his 'apprentice' but my mother objected. She wanted me to be a doctor,- but that didn't happen anyway."

 

Can anyone tell me what US Army Unit S. John Ross was in?

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Philip Ross for his assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

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This page first produced 12 August 2007

This page last updated 03 February 2017