We’re not going to bury the lead here: Bob Ross’ hair was actually straight. Just ask his longtime business partner Annette Kowalski, who knew Ross better than anyone — he had just gotten out of the Air Force, and was unsuccessfully trying to make a living as a painter, she says.
“He got this bright idea that he could save money on haircuts. So he let his hair grow, he got a perm, and decided he would never need a haircut again,” Kowalski explains.
Before he could change it back, though, the perm became his company’s logo — Ross hated it. “He could never, ever, ever change his hair, and he was so mad about that,” Kowalski says. “He got tired of that curly hair.”
But viewers never got tired of Ross or his show The Joy of Painting. With his soft, hypnotic voice, he’d bring his viewers in close as he created 30-minute masterpieces — distant mountain ranges, seascapes, forest scenes, always with those happy little trees. He’d sling his palette around, blend the titanium white paint, whisper about his life in Alaska, then gently tap his fan brush to create a canvas full of fluffy clouds. With his partly unbuttoned chambray shirt, his halo of tight curls and his soothing demeanor, Ross was a fixture on PBS.
Re-watching the show decades later — it’s now streaming on Netflix — The Joy of Painting still feels like a personal art lesson. And yet the oil painter we spent so many hours with remains a mystery. Ross led a private life and did only a few interviews during his career.