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During his 20 year tenure with the Air Force, Ross developed a taste for painting after attending an art class at the Anchorage U. In Ross’ own words: hosted by artist, Bill Alexander.Alexander touted a style of painting dating back to the 16th century called, alla prima (an Italian term meaning “first attempt”) that allowed him to churn out a painting in little under a half an hour.
Whatever the case, it would seem Ross flawlessly executed the so called “Steve Martin” method to success- “Be so good they can’t ignore you“.After meeting with Kowalski and her husband, Ross was convinced to leave the and set up his own teaching business.Kowalski was so sure of success, that she sunk her life savings into the venture with Ross and his wife making a similarly daring contribution.With that out of the way, lets talk about the little we do know definitively about Bob Ross’ life and how he became the cultural icon he is today.Born in Daytona Florida in 1942, Ross was the child of a carpenter (Jack) and a waitress (Ollie) who separated, married other people, separated from those new partners and then got married to each other again all before their son had hit his teens.Ross’ reasoning was that if he permed his hair, he’d save money in the long run because he’d no longer need to pay to have his hair trimmed once a week.
Ross kept the ‘fro for the rest of his life, though grew to dislike it in his later years.
The version recounted in the aforementioned PBS biopic of his life states that Ross filmed a commercial for the network with his former mentor, Bill Alexander, promoting his art classes that just so happened to catch the eye of the right executive.
Another otherwise reputable version of the story states that Kowalski filmed one of Ross’ 30 minute lessons and sent it to the network, who liked it enough to greenlight a pilot.
In its first year of operation, the business lost $20,000 (about $45,000 today).
With money tight, Ross made the bizarre decision to have his hair permed, exchanging the military crew cut he’d sported for two decades for his now iconic afro.
Amongst the pantheon of notable public television personalities, Bob Ross easily ranks alongside the likes of Mr Rogers and Elmo as a star who is almost universally loved and respected by the public.