Linda Cook review: Bob Ross documentary depicts a good-natured artist betrayed

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“Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed”

Darned if Bob Ross didn’t just become one of my heroes.

Before, whenever I saw images of Ross, I thought of the phrase “happy little trees.” But he was so much more than that. The documentary “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greed,” paints a portrait of a charming, good-natured artist and the not-so-pretty empire that centered around him.

Ross, who entertained millions for years with his “The Joy of Painting” series, was as nice a guy as you’d imagine. He was one of the most supportive television show hosts who ever lived, encouraging his budding-artist audience with phrases like “happy accidents,” which he is what called mistakes.

His supportive, soothing voice told viewers they could do whatever they wanted, and that paintings were the viewers’ worlds to create.

Ross tells some of the story himself in vintage clips. Other talking heads remember their late friend and colleague. His director, Sally Schenk, says Ross was sometimes “ornery,” and I wish she had gone into more detail.

Another person who was a pivotal character in Ross’s business enterprise was Annette Kowalski, who, along with her husband Walt, helped Ross become a television icon and also assisted with the Bob Ross, Inc., brand of paint and other merchandise.

After Ross died from lymphoma in 1995 at the age of 52, the enterprise continued. But Steve Ross, the painter’s son, never received any money from it, and has some unkind words for the Kowalski family, who did not want to be interviewed for the movie.

Steve Ross speaks out courageously about what he says were inappropriate power plays and other shenanigans.

Now, after the release of the movie, the Kowalskis have issued a response, which you can read here.

If you want to enjoy Ross again, or for the first time – for free – you can visit dozens of his shows on YouTube, including this one.

It’s well worth your time to become better acquainted with Ross. Even after death, he’s a bright, reassuring presence in a world that isn’t always pretty.

3 ½ stars

Running time: 95 minutes.  

Streaming on Netflix.

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