Bob Ross brought joy to millions as the world’s most famous art instructor. But a battle for his business empire cast a shadow over his happy trees.Netflix
Netflix released a documentary, “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed,” on August 25 exposing the dark sides of the “Joy of Painting.” Now after watching this movie from beginning to end, I was livid. Maybe I was upset because I could relate a little to the story, but I will definitely explain how I will not ever buy a product from Bob Ross Inc. Bob’s personality was the same on camera as he was in real life, told by many that were close to him. So, to be exploited after his death and without his permission is heartbreaking!
The story starts out with His son, Steve, narrating his father’s life. He said that it was difficult to get people to interview for the story because the others were frightened by someone. Bob started out painting on gold plates with his wife, Vicky, that he continue to do as a hobby. In 1965, Bob became a pilot in the air force. He moved him and his wife to Alaska where they eventually conceived Steve. Bob loved painting during his stay in Alaska. Case and point of why he always painted landscapes. He mastered his own gift because of the scenery he lived in. Spoiler Alert: Bob’s hair was not real. It was a perm that he regularly received.
Steve’s parents had a rocky relationship which eventually ended in divorce. Later, Bob met a woman named Jane. She was an assistant on the base. She was in love with Bob, but Bob was more focused on his painting.
Bob received much his painting inspiration from the famous Bill Alexander. Learning the proper techniques with wet painting, Bob had to meet him. Seeing Mr. Alexander on t.v., completing a painting during a thirty minute segment show, Bob knew that he wanted to take this hobby on as full-time. So he retired from the air force to become a traveling art instructor.
Annette Kowalski found Bob Ross while he was teaching an art class. Steve explains that at the time of Annette meeting Bob, she lost her son. He felt that she was trying to fill a void by going into business with his father. Annette believed that Bob was magical. But others believed that they were only in it for the money whereas bob only seen it as something he loved.
Steve describes a situation where they lived with the Kowalski’s. He thought that they were weird people finding out that Annette’s husband, Walter, was a retired CIA agent. So many wondered if Bob’s life would have been different if he never met the Kowalski’s. Then the scene jumps to Bob’s bestfriend, Dana Jester, calling others for the interview but only getting their voicemail. Dana says that he knows that they did not want to participate in the Netflix documentary because the Kowalski’s are known for suing. Netflix then states that more than a dozen people who knew and worked with Bob declined to participate in this film due to concerns of legal retaliation. Which is quite sad because what are the Kowalski’s possibly hiding?
Knowing what Mr. Alexander could create in a thirty minute segment show on tv. The Kowalski’s thought they could market Bob the same way, Which would drive more people to participate in their workshops. Bob’s pilot episode was aired in 1983 called, “The joy of painting,” in a old house in Indiana that they made a set out of. He filmed three show in one day in thirty minute segments. He went on to shoot more and more episodes going into his next series. He came up with the “Happy Accidents” phrase from a viewer sending him a postcard about making mistakes. His different techniques of painting and helping so many people, who could not paint, gotten his show carried on more than 40 PBS stations across the United States. Every workshop was eventually overbooked. You could definitely tell that bob truly enjoyed what he did.
The story jumps to Gary and Kathryn Jenkins who started on t.v. the same time Bob started. their style was flowers where as Bob’s was landscapes. The Jenkins knew Bob very well. They painted together as well as ate dinner together.
The Kowalski’s took care of the business aspect. Bob handled everything else from the actual painting to the customer service. Annette seemed very jealous of his personality. Steve behinds to reveal that Bob and Annette had some kind of affair going on behind Jane’s back. Once the affair was revealed, the energy had shifted. Even the crew at the set of ‘The joy of Painting” could tell also, but that did not stop the show from taking off over 200 episodes. Bob Ross became a celebrity that he started selling his own paint. He began using the same paint supplier as the Jenkins. Bob was not happy with the way the Kowalski’s were operating, Bob wanted quality over profit.
When Bob loss his second wife, Jane, it hit him really hard. You can tell during his shows during that time that it reflected through his attitude. A few weeks later, bob was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In the documentary , everyone believed that it was the paint thinner that could have caused it since he always hit the brush on the bottom of the stand. Bob did not let this stop him, he kicked out more shows to keep his mind off of it. Bob did not reveal his sickness to anyone not even the crew. The Kowalski’s knew he was sick, but only thought about their company losing money. The Jenkins comments on Annette publishing a book of the same exact paintings and techniques and even wording. It is clear that Annette copied everything the Jenkins did, right down to the pictures and the brushes. The Jenkins lost their contract with the Weber company of their brushes and a few months later, Annette had the same brushes possibly buying the supplier out. I do believe that Annette was trying to corner the art market. She put a lot of other companies out of business.
Bob wanted his son Steve to become his prodigy and take over his company, but Steve rebel against him because he wanted to do his own thing. Steve later regrets not listening to his father now that he realized when he became sick. He had more conversations with his father about the company. His father shared with him that when his wife jane died, that he lost controlling vote in the company. Bob’s opinion did not matter anymore. The Kowalski’s basically doing what they wanted to do and telling Bob that he was going to do what they wanted him to do. Bob ended his own show because he knew he didn’t want to do another show for them. Bob always wanted to do a show for the kids but Bob was becoming more sick and it started to show in his appearance. The Kowalski’s did not want the world to know he was sick.
Steve shares that when his father was on his death bed, the Kowalski’s had some type of contract in their hand. They explained to him that he should get his father to signed it because it was a memorial that they wanted to do for him. Steve shares that it looked like Annette was trying to get Bob to signed his name over to them. Netflix reveals that it was an agreement made by and between Bob Ross Inc. and Bob Ross saying that Bob’s name and likeness have been registered to BRI and such trademarks are wholly owned assets of BRI.
Steve refused to do as such, and Annette became upset and frustrated with Steve. Bob did not want to sign over the full rights of his name over but the Kowalski’s were persisted and desperate. Arguing over who will have his name for weeks and weeks. Bob thought that marrying the nurse whom took care of him in the hospital named Lynda Freeman, would help give him the controlling vote. Steve said he could hear his father yelling at the Kowalski’s about giving them his name and he knew something was wrong. His best friend, Dana, reveals that he had a conversation with Bob in his last days saying that he did not want anything to do with BRI or The Joy of Painting which was owned by the Kowalski’s. He felt like they were trying to steal his name on his deathbed. When Bob passed, Annette said to Steve, “aren’t you glad its over,” and Steve said,” what do you mean, am I glad my father’s gone?” The Kowalski’s did not show up to the funeral nor did they tell anyone. Dana said that the Kowalski’s called him and told him Bob passed and do not tell anyone. Steve believed that the Kowalski’s wanted his fans to believe that he was still alive.
After bob passed, the Kowalski’s expanded Bob’s Ross Inc. nationwide. They were making more changes and becoming demanding. The Bob Ross Inc. started certification classes which made everyone sign contracts mentioning it is forbidden to sell, solicit, or promote anything, anybody, and the use of other products except ross products. They also had their other peers telling on them if they broke any of the rules. Many were offended and believed that the Bob Ross legacy was being done an injustice by the surviving partners of the Bob Ross company. One of the employees explained seeing a guy in the warehouse forging Bob Ross’s name on a painting that a student from the certification class painted. How can anyone authenticate a Bob Ross painting? why would we trust Annette or Walt to tell us if Bob Ross himself painted the paintings when he has taught the world how to paint just like him? I call BS and something is very wrong here. The Bob Ross company knew that they were the largest client of the Weber company. Walt told an employee of Weber that they have the right to audit their company and the employee of Weber revealed that Walt said to them to drop the Jenkins and stop supporting them. The Jenkins had been in business with them for 16 years only to be dropped because of the Kowalski’s plan to corner the market and knock out the competition. Bob Ross Inc. has exploited Bob Ross name with so many different products to buy that was not even art related.
Netflix shows the deposition of Steve Ross and Dana Jester in the case RSR ART, LLC V. BOB ROSS, INC. Steve believed that it was better for him to sue them over the name then vice versa because they like to sue people. Lawrence Kapp, son of the weber company, also did a deposition explaining that he cut the contract of Bob Ross Inc. once he learned that Steve did not have any control of the company. Steve then wanted to start selling his own products using the same supplier. Everyone finds out that the Bob Ross Inc sued Bob’s last wife and his brother Jimmie shortly after he passed for the originals of everything Bob had and used. Steve later finds a contract saying that he and his uncle Jim own everything that his father left them in a trust. Giving his uncle 51% stake and Steve 49% stake at the time because Steve was young at the time and less responsible. Steve later finds out that the uncle assigned his ownership to BRI, to make the lawsuit go away, without Steve knowing and against his fathers’ wishes. of course the uncle did not want to interview due to fear of being sued by the Kowalski’s. They then state that the Kowalski sued all of Bob Ross trust and estate in 1996. Bob ross had tape recordings of himself to protect his name because he knew something would happen but the tapes were never found or could have been destroyed to prevent the Kowalski winning full control. Netflix reveals that the Kowalski’s did not want to comment on the documentary and that they were protective of their valuable intellectual property and to prevent unauthorized use or misuse of any of is by anyone which includes active participation by their attorney. And that they caution them to not infringe on any of the rights of bob ross Inc. This all sounds like a threat to me. In the end of Steve’s lawsuit against them, he lost it and he felt like they stole his father’s name from under him which in my opinion they did. Bob Ross Inc retained his name and all likeness of Bob Ross. the Kowalski’s have made millions from exploitations.
This documentary was excellent to give more insight to someone that always brought many of us Joy with painting. I truly enjoy painting on my down time. I was clearly upset with the outcome of his legacy and very displeased with exploited goods everywhere. I do feel like his legacy was not fulfilled in a meaningful way. Netflix did a great job with telling his story and capturing the moments and memories we have of him. I glad that I did watch this documentary and I recommend that you tuned into it too. I also almost bought some of the products a few years ago and now I glad that I did not go through with it. I can not support a company like that especially after what we have all found out on what went on behind the scenes. Check it out and tell me what you think down below. Follow, like and subscribe for more stories like these!