Bob Ross was the host of PBS’s The Joy of Painting for nine years. In those nine years on the popular tv show, he became an icon, not just for his quick painting demonstrations but for his charisma, hope, and belief that anyone can do anything once they set their minds to it.
There’s been a Bob Ross revival of sorts in recent years, at least in terms of merchandise. Fans can buy virtually anything with Bob Ross’ face on it. But the famous painter never really left. Following his death in 1995, The Joy of Painting still aired re-runs, and Bob Ross Inc. helped keep Ross’ legacy alive. However, the new Netflix documentary Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed, paints a different picture.
[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers from the documentary Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed.]
What is ‘Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed’ about?
In Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed, Ross’ son Steve tells a story he’s had bottled up for years. Who knew the charismatic, gentle Bob Ross had such a scandalous life?
Viewers learned who the real Bob Ross was in Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed. He was a veteran who turned to painting to escape. When he was an apprentice of Bill Alexander, he met the Kowalskis, who were grieving the death of their son. Annette and Walt Kowalski saw an opportunity. According to Steve, they convinced his father and his wife, Jane, to enter into a deal that allowed the Ross’ room and board in exchange for the Kowalski’s financial power.
Eventually, Bob Ross Inc. was formed, and PBS started airing The Joy of Painting. However, while living with the Kowalskis, Steve witnessed some pretty controversial things, including his father’s affair with Annette and their volatile relationship over who was in charge of Bob Ross Inc.
In the last couple of days of Ross’ life, Annette tried convincing Steve to get Ross’ to sign away his name and likeness for the survival of Bob Ross Inc. after he died. Ross never signed it; instead, he made a will that said his brother Jimmy and Steve would get everything. Jimmy never told Steve and gave Bob Ross Inc. everything. Steve didn’t find out until Steve sued Bob Ross Inc. to sell his own paint supplies using the name Ross. He lost his lawsuit due to funding.
The documentary did not paint the Kowalskis in the best light. Steve and many others refrained from talking about the situation for years because of the Kowalskis’ power. Now his story is out, and fans can judge for themselves who they think is more guilty.
Most Bob Ross fans are upset with the documentary
The documentary paints Bob Ross as the victim and the Kowalskis as the villains. Most fans have therefore taken Ross and Steve’s side. Esquire writes, “The back half of the documentary alleges that a combination of legal pressure, questionable ethics, and full-on bullying may have led to their ability to control the intellectual property and branding behind Bob Ross Inc. Ross, who is still a beloved figure in pop culture, has swaths of new generation fans with no idea how complicated the situation is, and thus, we have a mob on our hands. The name on their lips is Kowalski.”
They continue to write that while there may have been dozens of Ross’ friends who opted out of talking against the Kowalskis out of fear of retaliation, fans on Twitter are less scared to voice their opinions. “This was no happy accident, they insist, and they want justice.” The documentary angered some fans so much that they’re ready to fight.
“I’m watching this Bob Ross documentary and I’m ready to fight. Where that Annette lady stay at?” one person tweeted. “Watching the Bob Ross documentary on Netflix and I already want to fight,” another added. At the same time, another wrote, “Me in my room after watching the Bob Ross doc on Netflix plotting my revenge against the Kawolskis.”
Fans aren’t buying Bob Ross Inc.’s rebuttal to the documentary either. “They actually think Bob Ross would have faded into nothing if it weren’t for them exploiting his name & making millions of dollars on merchandise that he didn’t agree to,” one person wrote. Meanwhile, other fans are boycotting the documentary.
Some fans are boycotting the documentary
Some fans are under the impression that the documentary is too scandalous and one-sided. “There was no doubt a real man behind the facade of the television-famous painter, but the film often feels like it’s scraping for a scandalous angle simply to make it worthy of Netflix and its big buzz machine,” IndieWire writes.
While some fans are furious with the Kowalskis, other fans would rather the image of Bob Ross not be tainted. “No. I don’t think I care to ruin the memory of Bob Ross,” one fan commented on Twitter. “Oh hell no. Not with this year, or the last or EVER. In this house, we respect the name of Bob Ross,” another commented.
Whether fans like it or not, Ross’ life was controversial and scandalous at times, but this was a bigger story than his own misdeeds. This was Steve talking about how the Kowalskis ripped his father’s legacy away from him. Ultimately, we’re never going to really know what happened behind closed doors. Only Ross’ paintings know the full story.
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