If you watched PBS in the 1980s, you likely came across a quiet show called The Joy of Painting. The television show, hosted by iconic oil painter Bob Ross, became a favorite of viewers between 1983 and 1984.
Following Ross’s death in 1995, his partners Walt and Annette Kowalski continued managing his legacy through the company they had created—Bob Ross Inc. Allegedly, Ross and the Kowalskis engaged in legal battles near the end of his life over who would receive the rights to the Bob Ross name, likeness, and intellectual property.
Kowalski family net worth
The Kowalskis became fans of Ross’s painting style following a tragedy, according to Bustle. One of their sons died in a car accident. While grieving, Annette apparently started watching Bill Alexander’s TV program “The Magic of Oil Painting.” That led to them taking a class under Ross, who learned his technique from Alexander.
The Kowalskis and Ross went into business together. They helped him get his PBS program on the air starting in 1983. In The Joy of Painting, Ross showed viewers how to create an entire landscape oil painting in just 30 minutes. Ross became well-known for his catchphrase “happy little accidents” along with his trademark permed hair.
Ross had an estimated $10 million net worth in 1995 when he died. The Kowalskis have continued to profit from his intellectual property since then, with a show on YouTube and even his voice on sleep stories on the meditation app Calm. People can take classes to become a "Bob Ross Certified Instructor."
Joan Kowalski, the couple's daughter, now runs Bob Ross Inc. She claimed that Ross’s “artistic and cultural relevance...would have been lost decades ago with his passing” without the guidance of BRI and the Kowalskis, according to Vanity Fair.
Why Bob Ross’s son doesn't have rights to his father’s intellectual property
According to Wikipedia, the Kowalskis helped Ross build Bob Ross Inc. (BRI) into a $15 million business including class recordings and a line of art supplies.
In 1985, Ross and the Kowalskis incorporated the company Bob Ross, Inc., with Walt, Annette, Bob, and Bob’s wife Jane as equal partners. Documentary producer Melissa McCarthy said that Ross wanted most of the business to be passed on to his son and brother. The Kowalskis pressured him into signing it all over to them prior to his death.
Even though Ross wrote the Kowalskis out of his will and testament, they took the matter to court and won by claiming all of his work and his likeness constituted “work for hire” that he had no legal right to bequeath, according to Wikipedia.
Steve Ross told Vanity Fair, “What was done to my father and family wasn’t right.”
Bob Ross Netflix documentary
The streaming service Netflix just released a new documentary on Bob Ross and the business entitled “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed.” The filmmakers encountered a lot of resistance in trying to interview people about Ross since many of them were worried about litigation.
The documentary paints a picture of Ross’s life that isn't as peaceful and happy as his TV show depicted. BRI reps told CNN they objected to the film’s portrayal of Bob Ross Inc.