The legacy of painter Bob Ross has long been viewed as one of artistic inspiration and zen-like tranquility. But a new documentary from filmmakers Steven Berger and Joshua Rofé may cause fans to see him and his impact in a different light.
Berger and Rofé first approached the project at the behest of Bridesmaids star Melissa McCarthy and her husband, actor-filmmaker Ben Falcone, who are zestful fans of Ross's oeuvre. However, they immediately began to encounter legal resistance, with potential interviewees refusing to speak for fear of inviting wrathful and litigious vengeance from the owners of the Ross estate. This obstructionism only drove the team to go deeper and harder, delving into not only Ross's life but also the history of the posthumous legal battle for control of his assets.
In an interview with NPR, McCarthy opened up about their discoveries, revealing that Ross's business partners, Annette and Walter Kowalski, had seized control of Bob Ross Inc. after its eponym's death:
Bob certainly wanted it to go to — most of the business — to his son. He left it to his son and his brother. And very quickly, that was kind of taken through litigation. And because at the time [Bob's son] Steve was so young, Bob thought, you know, let's have an adult still guiding him with where he's going to take this company. ... But he didn't get to take hold of it at all.
Years later, Steve ultimately signed over his claims to the inheritance in exchange for being given legal freedom to paint again. Now the Kowalskis loom large over everything his father created, with even the documentarians playing things close to the vest for fear of being sued themselves.
Beyond their focus on the years of lawsuits, this new film will mostly preserve the traditional image of Ross as a peaceful and talented artist. Its creators have emphasized that this will not be a hit piece, and little focus will be given to his extramarital affairs or other problematic aspects of the artist.
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