Review of Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed Directed by Joshua Rofe
I don’t know if it was the voice or simply the fascination of watching a painting come to life in thirty minutes, but I always stopped channel surfing whenever I came across A Bob Ross Joy of Painting show. The new Netflix documentary about the famous painter tells the story of his rise to fame and the subsequent exploitation of his name and likeness after his death in 1995.
The documentary relies heavily on snippets from past shows. They not only show Bob doing what he did best, but the filmmakers use Bob’s own words to advance the narrative and provide subtext. For example, the filmmakers insinuate that Bob may have had ideas of his son taking over the shows in the future. Bob’s son, Steve, appeared frequently. Bob also mentioned his son in several episodes. But Steve had other ideas.
As Bob’s show grew in popularity, so too did his fame. Annette Kowalski and her husband, Walter, who, along with Bob, started BRI (Bob Ross, incorporated), saw an opportunity to capitalize on that fame. They began selling Bob Ross merchandise and pursued other money-making ventures using Bob’s name and likeness.
When Bob was diagnosed with cancer, and his show was winding down, he attempted to distance himself from the Kowalskis. He prepared documents that left future income to his son and brother. The Kowalskis, though, had other plans.
The Kowalskis ultimately declined to be interviewed for the film. Now they are complaining about inaccuracies by the filmmakers and a lack of transparency in their initial communications. Sorry, that argument doesn’t hold up. You had your chance. Maybe you consulted a lawyer who advised against being interviewed. Regardless, it was a terrible decision. Unfortunately for them, the Bob Ross empire they built and relied on will likely go up in smoke.
Antipathy towards the Kowalskis is already growing as a result of the film. People are refusing to purchase Bob Ross merchandise. And Bob Ross’s original artwork is sure to take a hit now that authenticity is in question.
All Bob Ross ever wanted was to spread the joy of painting. Thanks to this film and replays of his past shows, his legacy will live on. The Kowalskis on the other hand will have to live with their choices.