Sad truth behind Bob Ross’ happy persona

By Gabriela Gutierrez

By Gabriela Gutierrez

On a mission to set the record straight, Bob Ross’s son, Steve Ross plays a key role in Netflix’s documentary “Bob Ross: Happiness Betrayal and Greed.”  The documentary dives into the hidden parts of Ross’ life successfully, but not without twists and turns.  

The most pleasant parts of Ross’ life were when he was painting. However, the film exposes the sad truth behind his happy-go-lucky persona.  

Film director Joshua Rofe creates in “Bob Ross: Happiness Betrayal and Greed” a more traditional documentary. He strips the film of any overly  exaggerated gestures and sticks to allowing the interviewees to tell the story from their perspectives.  

The only downfall of the film is its inability to be interesting in accordance with the times.  

Although the film is a slow burn, for those who learned to love Ross through his art and persona, the documentary is a must-watch.  

The film is scattered with recreated scenes in the forms of impressionist paintings and uses eerie, fairy-tale-like music to really set the mood. A fine choice  for a film about a beloved artist.  

To kick off the documentary Steve Ross said, “I’ve wanted to get this story out for all these years…It’s going to be difficult to get people to do interviews  for this film.”  

Many of the people who had agreed to do interviews ended up backing out due to fear of being sued by Ross’ old business partners, Annette Kowalski and  Walter Kowalski.  

Ross’ relationship with the Kowalskis is revealed to be shaky to this day. The Kowalskis deny any allegations against them and refuse to make a statement. 

Annette Kowalski, who was a flower artist, met Bob Ross as Bill Alexander’s protégé. Alexander, being an accomplished artist himself, became Ross’  endorsement into the art world. 

Kowalski was overcoming the death of her son at the time when she met Ross and quickly grew fond of him and his magical art.  Steve Ross said that for five years the relationship between Ross, his wife Jane Zanardelli and the Kowalskis was a good relationship.  

The four worked together to make the best decisions for Ross’ brand, which was growing rapidly in popularity due to his show in the U.S. Public  Broadcasting Service called “The Joy of Painting.” Ross’ dedication to art went beyond fame for him. When his partnership with the Kowalskis led to a  contract with paint supplier, Martin/ F. Weber Company, Ross insisted on quality over profits. 

Although the partnership worked for some time, it did not last long after Zanardelli died of cancer. Ross was left without a vote in his favor, leaving the  Kowalskis to do their bidding with his brand. Steve Ross said that three weeks after Zanardelli passed, Ross found out he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. 

While on his deathbed, the Kowalskis pressured Ross to sign over his name to them, but that was never his plan.  

Rofe does a great job in giving the documentary an honest take. Nothing about the film feels overdone.  

The film, which takes its audience through a roller coaster of mood swings, ends on a lighter note. It honors Ross in the best way possible by allowing his  son, Steve Ross, to have a voice and to be his late father’s advocate. 

“Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed” is streaming on Netflix.

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