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Kowalski Family, Bob Ross, Inc. Response to Netflix’s Bob Ross Documentary
No one was expecting for a war over the legacy of Bob Ross to erupt in 2021, but the unofficial motto of this year is expect the unexpected, so perhaps that oversight is on us. In the wake of the release of Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal, and Greed, the Kowalski family has released a statement firing back at Netflix, the filmmakers, and the producers behind the documentary that slams the current leadership at Bob Ross Inc.
For the record, the Kowalski family has always been a driving force at Bob Ross Inc, finding Ross in his early career and suggesting that he “bottle” his magic and sell it to the masses. What resulted was the company that bears his name, with Walt and Annette Kowalski holding a quarter of the company’s ownership, each. Bob Ross and his wife held the other two quarters. But upon each of their deaths, the ownership was equally spread among the survivors, meaning that the Kowalskis eventually ended up with the whole company.
What is particularly damning though is that the back half of the documentary alleges that the Kowalski family then used legal force and intimidation to obtain Ross’s intellectual property, among other things, from his son Steve, his half-brother Jimmie, and his late third wife—all of whom were left portions of his estate that would help steer where and how his legacy and name were used. The allegations have created a growing storm of contempt for the Kowalskis and Bob Ross Inc.
In part of their statement, the company said:
Bob Ross Inc. never pursued or threatened legal action against Steve Ross, and, in fact, no one at Bob Ross Inc. heard from Steve Ross for almost twenty years, until 2017 when Steve filed suit against the company without any prior communication.Bob Ross may not have shared the inherent structural features of his company with family and friends – which are very common in small private companies – resulting in many of the unsubstantiated accusations made in the film.
But one of the more damning illustrations in the documentary is that Bob Ross Inc. continues to profit from every use of Ross’s image, including little sayings, recreations, and uses of his face on anything from tee shirts to glassware. To that, the comment:
All of the products and merchandise seen today are just another way to share Bob’s message of positivity with people around the world. Bob Ross Inc.’s hope is that items bearing Bob’s likeness and messages prompt smiles as they remind people of the love of painting Bob shared with all.
For the time being, it doesn’t seem like the comms team at Bob Ross Inc. is going to be getting much time away from the desk. You can see the company’s full statement here. The documentary is now streaming on Netflix.
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.
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