Bob Ross is a name that most people know for his art program. His televised show, The Joy of Painting, became a cult favorite of PBS stations. His gentle voice and mastery of painting made for a winning demonstration show.
However, most people only seem to know the man on the camera. They may only know him as the afro-bearded guy on a host of merchandise. You may even see duplicators on Twitch.
But there’s more to Ross than being just a gentle painter. His personal life turned out to be quite the sordid affair. His business life was even more chaotic.
The Origins of Bob
The film starts off a bit all-encompassing by telling of how Bob found his way into painting. He was a military man who found himself infatuated with nature and art. After his service, he married and dipped into the medium of painting.
Bob became inspired by painters appearing on television to demonstrate techniques. However, he noticed that the painters were often forceful and loud. Perhaps easygoing whispers would ease the viewers more into watching.
The formula worked! His pilot of the early 1980s proved to be successful and garnered more episodes. Bob’s technique was so fascinatingly quick that he would apparently film an average of three episodes a day.
Bob’s Son Speaks
Before Bob had his own show, however, he had a son, Steve. By the time Steve had grown up, Bob was hoping that Steve would take up his profession. Painting was something Steve was good at but he clearly didn’t want the pressure.
Steve reveals as much when interviewed for this film. He also reveals a lot that we may not have known about Bob. Steve notes that Bob was known to have an affair that very much soured his business relations.
It’s quite an emotional challenge for Steve to reveal such secrets. He at one point admits to having met with Bob’s mistress at her worst. What’s even tougher is admitting how he handled the death of his father.
The Darker Years
While The Joy of Painting continued on for double-digit series, Bob’s life certainly took a turn for the worse. His second wife Jane dies of cancer in 1992. Not long after, Bob would find himself diagnosed with lymphoma.
Though his days were numbered, Bob would bury himself in work. He continued on with his painting program in the same style. He’d also attempt to appear on a children’s program prior to his death.
What’s even worse is that Ross was aggressively pursued by the Kowalskis. They wanted Bob’s name to sell his likeness for products. Bob refused at every point, right up to his funeral.
Despite Bob’s refusal to sell his name, the Kowalskis ultimately won. Through their legal trickery, they were able to acquire Bob’s image for selling everything from paintbrushes to T-shirts.
It’s a rather shocking moment for anyone who found themselves purchasing Bob Ross merch. How can one reason with themselves to do so when Ross refused such branding?
It is true that a big part of Bob’s career was pushing painting products. However, Bob was in control of that process and the quality. Now that he’s dead, there is no say by even his family.
The Depressing Truth
There’s a rather cathartic experience to this whole documentary. At first, the film tries to slowly reveal that Bob wasn’t all that empathetic. For some, this may signal that Bob is going to be retroactively problematic.
In truth, Bob turns out to be more human. The old saying is that you should never meet your heroes but some argue the opposite. Knowing your heroes are not perfect makes them seem more relatable.
And, really, divorce and affairs don’t seem as shocking when looking at the bigger picture. Bob wasn’t perfect but did well to keep a portion of their personal life out of his PBS career.
What Wasn’t Said
The real villains of this picture are clearly the Kowalskis. They not only manipulated their way into profiting off the Bob Ross name but did so with a hideous attitude.
Steve reveals that after Bob’s funeral, the Kowalskis contacted him. They apparently said, “Aren’t you glad it’s over?” Steve could hardly respond to such a terrible thing to say to a grieving son.
The Kowalskis are apparently so protective of their brand. They sue anyone who slanders them. As a result, a number of interview subjects declined to appear in this documentary.
The Happier Accidents
The documentary is staged in a sobering yet reflective light. Smart choices in light music and slow-paced editing give some grace to the picture. At the same time, the film doesn’t shy away from being a little harsh with Bob.
The darker tales are portrayed through paintings of dark shadows. The happier moments are seen through the numerous glowing photos of the painter and his work.
Of course, there’s plenty of footage from The Joy of Painting. Watching Bob Ross work his magic is still a treat and the film doesn’t shy away from this aspect. After all, he inspired so many to pursue art and that can’t be overlooked.
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed is a tough but essential watch. The story behind Bob Ross is one that is not only worth telling but absolutely mandatory when looking at his cultural impact.
I can say for certain it has altered how I look at Bob Ross merch. To this day, Steve has not seen a dime of those sales. All the happy clouds in the world can’t cover up that stain on the man’s legacy.
Did you watch Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed on Netflix? Was it shocking or expected? How does it compare to other films? Was it more revealing than The Death of Dick Long? Let us know in the comments below.