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The Bob Ross business

Netflix documentary doesn’t show the real man


The Bob Ross business
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You may recognize his distinctly coiffed hair or have watched him paint a perfect scene in less than 30 minutes, but do you really know Bob Ross? The Netflix film Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal, and Greed fills gaps in viewers’ knowledge but falls short of giving real insight into the late artist.

Ross, a retired Air Force technician, became a TV star by teaching painting to millions on The Joy of Painting, which originally ran on PBS from 1983 to 1994. His love for painting, encouragement to amateurs, and ability to quickly complete a canvas brought Ross tremendous popularity. It also brought business partners Walt and Annette Kowalski, who with Ross co-founded Bob Ross Inc., which began selling paint supplies, art prints, and art instruction.

When Ross died of cancer at age 52, he left little personal material for biographers to work with, perhaps explaining why this film focuses on his business relationship with the Kowalskis. Ross’ son Steve bitterly recalls unsuccessful lawsuits against Bob Ross Inc., an entity that still profits from the artist’s likeness and output. But claims of Kowalski wrongdoing don’t really help us understand Ross. As detours, the documentary highlights his female fans’ adulation and hints at adultery between Ross and business partners.

While Ross frequently referred to God and creation in his shows, this film gives little insight into his personal beliefs. Viewers might be better off watching episodes of The Joy of Painting to get to know Bob Ross a little ­better.

Marty VanDriel Marty is a TV and film critic for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and CEO of a custom truck and trailer building company. He and his wife, Faith, reside in Lynden, Wash., near children and grandchildren.


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