Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades


Remember Bob Ross? He was that bushy-hair painter you’d see on PBS. His instructional show ran from 1983 to 1994. You can still catch reruns in some areas.

Robert Norman Ross was an Air Force records technician who took up painting on the side in the late ‘70s. Stationed in Alaska, he sold paintings of landscapes on novelty gold mining pans. When his income surpassed his military pay, he retired and returned to Florida to join his mentor Bill Alexander in an art supply company. Little more than a traveling salesman, he broke away from Alexander to start his own company … and eventually launch a how-to-paint TV show.

Ross would instruct viewers in the quick, wet-on-wet oil painting technique.

Known for his permed hair and soften-spoken patter, he was known for phrases he used while painting (e.g., “Let’s add some happy little trees…”).

Having been the tough guy “who makes you scrub the latrine” in the military, he vowed he would never raise his voice again.

Unfortunately, his relationship with Alexander became strained. “He betrayed me,” said Alexander. “I invented ‘wet on wet’, I trained him, and … he thinks he can do it better.” Note: Art historians point out that the wet-on-wet technique (known as “alla prima”) was developed by Flemish painters in the 15th Century.

Controversy followed Bob Ross even after his death. His business partners claimed all his paintings had been works for hire, and excluded Ross’s family from the business.

Quite a lot of drama for such a quiet-voiced art instructor.

Now you can get a fictional version of Bob Ross in a new film titled “Paint.”

Starring a frizzy-haired Owen Wilson as a TV painter called Carl Nargle, the film was written and directed by Brit McAdams (“Triviatown,” “Tosh.O”). The screenplay had been on the fabled Black List, those best unproduced scripts floating around Hollywood.

Here, we get the story of how Owen Wilson’s character, the host of an extremely popular Vermont painting show, is replaced by “a younger, better painter who steals  everything (and everyone) Carl loves.”

“I did a little painting before to just see what it felt like,” says Wilson. “But one of the big things for me came when they got the look dialed in with the wardrobe. And, I mean, let’s be honest, the wig does a lot of the heavy lifting for me in terms of feeling not like myself … but I can’t quite do an imitation.”

He adds, “When you watch those Bob Ross shows, there’s just something very attractive and welcoming about the way he sounds and the stuff he’s saying … ”

Bob Ross was sometimes described as “Mr. Rogers with a paintbrush.”

Email Shirrel:

Ratings & Comments