The Secrets of Painters, Bank Robbers, and Social Workers

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February 23, 2015 by libroshombre

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents,” was one of many Zen-like observations of Bob Ross, host of PBS’ “The Joy of Painting” series that ran from 1983 to 1994. Regular PBS viewers encountered Ross’ program and his bubbly, up-beat banter, or at least his ubiquitous frizzy afro hair-do. But he was also a man of secrets. For instance, despite his soft voice and gentle apFeatured imageproach that had critics comparing him to Fred Rogers, Ross was an Air Force master sergeant. As he told an interviewer, “I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine … who screams at you for being late to work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it.”

Ross was assigned to Eielson AFB and was inspired by Alaska’s natural beauty. There he developed his famed quiFeatured imageck-painting technique to produce artwork during his breaks. After military retirement, Ross produced his “Joy of Painting” TV program for free, relying on his art supply and how-to company for income. He made over 30,000 paintings, all of which he donated or gave away, except for illustrated goldpans during his Eielson years that went for $25.

As Kahil Gibran noted, “If you reveal your secrets to the wind, you should not blame the wind for revealing them to the trees.” That didn’t inhibit Ross, nor did it Alphonso Jennings, a bank and train robber, and a lawyFeatured imageer, in the late 1800s, who later made several silent movies about his exploits to deter others from a life of crime. “The Bank Robbery” of 1908, a silent classic, recreated one of Jennings’ hold-ups, and it inspired him to write, produce and star in “The Lady of the Dugout,” which is included on the public library’s copy of “Treasures 5: The West” DVD. The Turner Classic Movie Database said it co-starred Jennings’ brother Frank and “is surprisingly honest in its depictions of these two men. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that they were bank robbers or that they injured people during their criminal acts … ‘The Lady of the Dugout’ is a rather remarkable film, filled with fascinating characters and emotional twists and turns.”

Jennings was pardoned by Teddy Roosevelt, ran a strong race for Oklahoma governor, and toured with his film, proselytizing about avoiding aFeatured image life of crime. The notes on the DVD told how Jennings was captured and imprisoned, and his cell-mate was William Porter, who’s better known as O. Henry. Jennings wrote his autobiography, “Beating Back,” and with Henry penned a book about their friendship, “Through the Shadows with O. Henry’. Both predate the 1923 cut-off for copyright protection, so I downloaded free e-book versions using the library’s WIFI, which is much quicker than my home connection in the woods, and found them a good read. is a great source for feisty, women-related history. There I recently read about another secretive person: Irena Sendler, a nurse, social worker and “one of the great unsung heroes of WWII who led a secret operation to successfully smuggle 2,500 JewishFeatured image children out of the Warsaw Ghetto.” Sendler was head of the children’s division of the Zegota, the Polish resistance organization. Her day job in the Polish government’s Social Welfare Department allowed her to inspect Jewish children for typhus, enabling her to smuggle them out of the ghetto in potato sacks, coffins, and an ambulance with a false bottom. What’s more, Sendler compiled lists of the children and their locations and buried them in jars to facilitate reuniting survivors after the war.

Sendler was caught, imprisoned, tortured, and sentenced to death. “Fortunately, the Zegota was able to bribe the German guards as she was on her way to execution,” and she hid until war’s end. Her exploits were mostly forgotten until 1999, when three American high school girls undertook a year-long history project.Featured imageStarting with a brief news clipping about Sendler , they wound up writing a play about her, “Life in a Jar” and inspired more interest in Sendler’s achievements, including books and a documentary.

Sendler’s fortitude and achievement were amazing. But as Bob Ross, pointed out, “the secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it.”

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