Bob Ross´s business partners did not have Happy Little Accidents; they exploited him and took the rights to his name.

Sara B
Photo byBy Bob Ross Incorporated, Fair use,

Bob Ross has become an international internet sensation. Bob Ross hosted The Joy of Painting, which aired on PBS from 1983-1994. However, his life wasn't full of happy accidents, as he describes in his paintings. There is much more to the life and story of Bob Ross.

Bob was born on October 29, 1942, in Daytona Beach, Florida, and dropped out of high school in the 9th grade to work with his father as a carpenter. When Bob was 18, he joined the Air Force and started as a medical records technician, but eventually worked his way up to Master Sergeant and was stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.

While living in Alaska, he took a painting class through the Anchorage USO in the 1960s. John Thamm was the instructor of the first class Bob took. And from there, Bob flourished, and he began to paint during work breaks, he painted on novelty gold mining pans. He would sell them for 25$ each to make extra money.

However, one day he saw a TV show about a new technique, wet on wet, also known as ¨alla prima¨ (the first attempt). It would become the technique that made Bob famous. He learned this new technique from Bill Alexander, who hosted the show The Magic of Oil Painting.

Bob realized he could paint a new painting within 30 minutes with this new technique. He took classes with Bill, and when he finally retired from the military in 1981, he worked for Bill Alexanders' company, The Magic Art Company as a traveling art instructor, selling paintings, canvases, paints, and brushes.

Annette Kowalski met Bob at a class, she was a fan of Bill, and when she found out he had a protege teaching a class near her, she and her husband, Walt, went to take a class. They were suffering from losing a child and thought it would help cure Annette's depression.

As soon as the Kowalski's witnessed Bob, they saw something in him and wanted to capitalize on it, stating:

"I was so mesmerized by Bob," she explained to NPR. "Somehow, he lifted me up out of that depression. I just think that Bob knew how to woo people. I said, 'Let's put it in a bottle and sell it.'"

Annette Kowalski became Bob's partner and helped bob sell paintings, but they wanted more. She wanted to go into a partnership with Bob. So Annette and her husband, Walt, encouraged Bob to branch out independently, and they would invest in his ventures.

Similar to what he was already doing with Bill Alexander. Bob set out on his own; Bob and his son eventually moved in with them to help make ends meet. He also permed his hair to save money; instead of getting it cut, he would permit it, as it cost less, which became his signature look.

Eventually, Bob pitched a show to PBS when they were running a workshop in Muncie, Indiana, and a local PBS station approached them, and Bob pitched the idea of his show ¨The Joy of Painting¨.

The show would be placed before or after Bill's episode, and Bill's company financed the series. Bob always gave credit to Bill; however, Bob was way better in front of the camera with his calm manner and soothing voice. It was a success, and The Kowalskis saw an opportunity to sell brushes, canvas, and paints using Bob's name.

The show paid Bob nothing, but his workshops started filling up with those wanting to learn how to paint. There were rumors that Bob and Annette had an affair, and according to Bob's son Steven it was true.

Stating something was going on, and they would come out of the same hotel room at times. Bob was married at the time to his second wife, Jane. The affair caused issues between all those involved, even the PBS staff. When Annette stopped coming to the filming, it was less stressful.

Bob was an author, a TV personality, and a painter. He wanted to encourage you to paint because he says:

¨magic does happen in 30 minutes¨.

Bob only wanted to teach those how to paint, and the Kowalksis had a different idea; they wanted to make money. If you listen closely to what Bob says while painting, you can notice subtle such as:

"Mix up a little more shadow color here, then we can put us a little shadow right in there. See how you can move things around? You have unlimited power on this canvas -- can literally move mountains" ― Bob Ross
¨I like painting because it gives me total freedom; it's the only place I have ever had total freedom¨.

So did he not have control in any other areas of his life?

According to the documentary on Netflix, Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betray and Greed. The Kowalskis were sue happy, and many people refused to be interviewed for the documentary for fear of being sued by them.

Bob's wife died in 1992, and shortly after, he was diagnosed with Lymphoma; however, he kept painting. The last episode of The Joy of Painting was filmed in 1994.

After Bob was diagnosed, the Kowalskis got worried and decided to dominate the art world. However, Bob always tried to get his son Steve involved in the business, but he wanted to do his own thing.

So, according to Steve, when Bob got sick, they reconnected and talked about what was happening behind the scenes of his business. When Jane died, he lost a vote in his interaction with the Kowalskis, and they just told Bob what to do.

He was done working with them. When Bob was on his deathbed, the Kowalskis wanted Steve to get a contract signed for a memorial to Bob before he passed. However, it was a contract to get Bob to sign his name over to them, and Steve refused to do it, and Annette became angry. He did not want to sign away the rights to his name, and neither did Bob.

The Kowalskis were obsessed with who would possess his name after he died. He was screaming to them ¨you are not getting my name¨. He knew they were trying to steal his name, even on his deathbed. Bob died on July 4, 1995; he was 52.

It was rumored that the Kowalskis did not want people to know he was dead, fearing it would hurt their business. After he died, Bob Ross Inc kept going; they expanded to Europe.

Bob's students were forced to sign a contract to use only Ross products and report those going against guidelines. Many accused them of defacing Bob's name, even faking his name on paintings.

Bob Ross wanted to inspire everyone to paint, and the Kowalskis only wanted to make money. Saying it's just business, nothing personal while putting others out of business and taking the joy of painting out of people's lives the exact opposite of what Bob promoted.

Bob died before any of this happened and hit the market. I remember watching Bob Ross with my grandmother, and it is a shame what the Kowalskis are doing to his name.

The documentary revealed that all ownership of Bob Ross Inc belongs to the Kowalskis. However, they refused to participate in the documentary. And deny any relationship issues. Steve now teaches people all over to paint and has yet to receive any money from Bob Ross, Inc.

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I share legends, myths, and bizarre history, sometimes news. Living nomadically since 2018, currently in Colombia.

Pasadena, CA

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