At Large  August 30, 2021  Megan D Robinson

11 Revelations About Bob Ross From Netflix's New Documentary

Created: Mon, 08/30/2021 - 09:56
Author: anna

Bob Ross (born Robert Norman Ross, 1942 – 1995)—host of the most successful art show in TV history, The Joy of Painting—is probably the most recognized painting instructor of all time. Ross, who passed away from lymphoma, became a pop culture icon during his lifetime and has only become more popular posthumously. His show aired from 1983 to 1994 on over forty PBS stations all over the world and continues to live on in reruns and internet videos.

His charming, soft-spoken enthusiasm inspired millions. Ross insisted anyone could paint and that there were no mistakes, only “happy accidents.” His cultural impact is obvious. Bob Ross-inspired painting workshops, internet challenges, cosplay costumes, online merchandise, and homages from giants like Deadpool and Bansky continue to crop up. The new Netflix documentary, Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed by Joshua Rofé, examines Ross’ life and career, piecing together old photos, TV footage, and interviews with friends, family, and coworkers to give a sense of the man, his art, and his contested legacy.

Below are a few revelations from the show:

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Courtesy Netflix.
2 Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still Featuring early photo of Ross painting.
1. Where Ross Learned His Technique
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still Featuring an early photo of Ross painting.

Ross learned the wet on wet, or alla prima (Italian for 'first attempt') painting technique from German painter William Alexander, who popularized it on his half-hour PBS show, The Magic of Oil Painting. After studying with Alexander, Ross retired from the military and became a traveling painting instructor for Alexander’s company.

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Courtesy Netflix.
1 Bob Ross-Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still featuring painted gold pans. Courtesy Netflix.
2. The Origin of Ross' Mountain Landscapes
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still featuring Ross' painted gold pans.

While stationed in Alaska with the Air Force, Ross started painting his signature mountain scenes on novelty gold-mining pans as couples’ hobby art with his first wife, Vivian. Ross painted primarily from memory; most of his mountain landscapes were inspired by the Alaskan wilderness.

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Courtesy Netflix.
3 Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross and his son, Steve Ross.
3. An Alleged Affair
Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed- Production Still of Bob Ross and his son, Steve Ross.

Ross met his future business partner, Annette Kowalski, when she attended an Alexander Art workshop in 1982. Entranced with his teaching style, she convinced Ross to break out on his own. Ross and his second wife, Janet, started Bob Ross, Inc., or BRI, with Kowalski and her husband. Ross’ son and some friends allege Ross and Kowalski had an affair. BRI denies this.

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Courtesy Netflix.
 Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Steve Ross visiting his father's grave.
4. The Heir Apparent and Legal Drama
Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed- Production Still of Steve Ross visiting his father's grave.

Ownership of BRI passed to the Kowalski’s after Ross’ death, despite the fact that Ross was grooming his son Steve to follow in his footsteps. A certified instructor, Steve was a frequent guest painter on his dad’s show. Before and after Ross’ death, there were bitter legal battles over the business, Ross’ name, and his legacy. These ultimately left BRI in control of Ross’ name, image, and profits. Steve does not profit from BRI sales.

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Courtesy Netflix.
5. Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross with a finished painting.
5. Ross was Extremely Prolific
Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross with a finished painting.

The Joy Of Painting pilot was filmed in 1983, at a historic house used by WIPBTV. Ross frequently filmed at least three episodes a day, painting an estimated 30,000 paintings over the show’s thirty-one seasons.

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Courtesy Netflix.
6. Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross painting trees.
6. Speed Painting
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross painting trees.

Ross could finish a painting in twenty-eight minutes and often, after the two-minute warning, started a large tree in the foreground of the landscape. He called this race against time a bravery test.

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Courtesy Netflix.
7. Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob and Steve Ross teaching together.
7. Why Bob Ross Spoke Softly
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob and Steve Ross teaching together.

A born showman, Ross loved an audience. While his onscreen and offscreen personalities were very similar, Ross deliberately spoke in a gentle whisper while filming, to soothe his audience’s painterly apprehensions, making oil painting accessible and friendly. After meeting a colorblind fan, Ross painted a mountain scene in shades of grey to prove anyone can paint. He said “Talent is pursued intent. Anything you’re willing to practice, you can do.”

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Courtesy Netflix.
8. Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross in nature. Courtesy Netflix.
8. A Friend to the Animals
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross in nature.

An avid nature-lover, Ross continued his childhood practice of rescuing wounded animals, introducing viewers to many foundlings, including “Peapod the Pocket Squirrel.”

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Courtesy Netflix.
9. Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross. Courtesy Netflix.
9. His Iconic Hair
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross.

Ross’ trademark afro was a perm; he joked that when he got his perm touched up, he was “getting his springs tightened.”

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Courtesy Netflix.
10 Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Ross with a young student.
10. Inspiring the Next Generation
Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed- Production Still of Ross with a young student. 

Ross loved inspiring kids to create art. At a 1989 NYC Kids Day in Central Park, Ross graciously met and encouraged legions of fans. In his final year, Ross realized his dream of doing a children’s show, appearing on the pilot episode of The Adventures of Elmer and Friends.

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Courtesy Netflix.
11. Bob Ross- Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross. Courtesy Netflix.
11. A Rift Between Partners
Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed - Production Still of Bob Ross with students and their artwork.

Family and friends say a rift developed between the Kowalskis and Ross after Janet died of cancer in 1992, as Ross and the Kowalskis wanted to take the company in different directions. Ross’ focus was teaching painting, while the Kowalskis were more interested in promoting branded painting supplies and merchandise. BRI denies any rift.