Lanny Ross: Kirkland's Favorite Son
by Alan J Stein
Stage, screen, radio and television: One person who went on to make a name for himself in these fields of entertainment was a native son of Kirkland. His name was Lanny Ross.
Lanny's grandfather was none other than Walter H Williams, one of our city's founders. Williams came from England with Peter Kirk to establish the steel mill that gave the city of Kirkland its start. Although the steel industry failed, Williams remained in the area, running a farm on Rose Point ( the current location of Juanita Bay Park).
Williams' daughter Winifred, who played the piano, became enamored with Douglas Ross, a violinist, through the Community Church. Douglas worked in insurance, but his background was in theatre. They married, and after Lanny was born, Douglas gave Lanny his start in the entertainment business.
At the tender age of six, Lanny appeared onstage in New York, in actor George Arliss' production of Disraeli. During his youth, his parents provided him with an environment that nurtured his musical skills, By the time he had graduated with a law degree from Yale, Lanny had established himself as a singer on the infant medium of radio. This was the springboard to his career.
He debuted as a radio star in 1928 with the tune "Troubadour on the Moon". Throughout the 30's, his signature song was "Moonlight and Roses". During this time, he was the radio singing star of such shows as Maxwell House Show Boat, Packard Car Mardi Gras, and Camel Cigarette Camel Caravan. In 1936, he was voted Most Popular Male Vocalist in the U.S. This lead to roles in the films Melody in Spring, College Rhythm, The Lady Objects, and as a voice in the 1939 Fleischer-animated feature Gulliver's Travels.
During WWII, he served his country with the U.S. army, achieving the rank of major. After the war, he returned to America to reestablish his career as entertainer. When television made its debut in the late 40's and early 50's, Lanny was on the cutting edge. He performed on Swift's TV Variety, and had his own production, The Lanny Ross Show.
Throughout all of this, Lanny never lost sight of his roots. He came back to Kirkland every few years and provided early-day memories for the East Side Journal and other publications. In 1946, he wrote an article for American magazine describing memories of his youth in Kirkland. He remembered the days when his grandfather would greet him with a bag of popcorn in his pocket. He fondly recalled the sound and smell of the Lake Washington ferries as they pulled into the docks. He wistfully looked for the trees he carved his initials onto when he was a boy.
Every few years he would come back and breathe in the nostalgia of his youth. The East Side Journal was there to report it. After his mother died in 1959, he returned to meet up with his Williams relatives. He fondly recalled spending time on the farm, which the family called Glandwyr (a Welsh name meaning 'by the water'). The days of swimming in Juanita Bay, the music of his father and mother, and the joy of being a youth in the 1910's was very evident in his memories.
In 1969, he came back again to retell the story of his life and the early days of Kirkland. By this time he was a well-known name in the media of stage, screen, radio and television, not only as an entertainer, but as a producer, But, he still felt a need to retell the stories of early Kirkland. The popcorn stories resurfaced. He lamented the loss of the Lake Washington ferry system. He still tried to find those trees with his initials on them.
Lanny died on April 25, 1988. He was 82 years old. Throughout his long career in the entertainment industry, he still held on to his youth. The memories of bygone days provided a foundation for his success. As he stated in his later years, "You can't ever go back. But I still like to reminisce." Wouldn't we all like to view our lives in this way?
Home | What's New | History of Kirkland | Search The Index | History Links
© 1998 -Alan J Stein