Lee Phillip Bell, Soap Opera Creator and Talk Show Host, Dies at 91

Lee Phillip Bell, Soap Opera Creator and Talk Show Host, Dies at 91


Lee Phillip Bell, a co-creator of two of daytime television’s most successful and enduring soap operas, “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” died on Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 91.

Her death was confirmed by Eva Basler, a spokeswoman for the Bell family’s company, Bell-Phillip Television Productions.

Ms. Bell also hosted a daytime talk show in Chicago for more than three decades and as a broadcast journalist produced and narrated award-winning documentary specials.

She teamed up with her husband, William J. Bell, in creating “The Young and the Restless,” which has been on the air since 1973, and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” which celebrates its 33rd anniversary in March. The dramas have attracted millions of viewers while tackling difficult topics like incest, alcoholism and teen pregnancy.

“The Young and the Restless” centers on a pair of fractious Midwestern families and has been a springboard for up-and-coming stars like David Hasselhoff and Tom Selleck. “The Bold and the Beautiful,” which premiered in 1987, is set in a ritzy Los Angeles fashion house.

In 1975, Ms. Bell won a Daytime Emmy Award for outstanding drama series for “The Young and the Restless.” She received a lifetime achievement award from the Daytime Emmys in 2007.

Loreley June Phillip was born in Riverside, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, on June 9, 1928, to James and Helen (Novak) Phillip. As a girl she often helped out in her parents’ floral shop.

After graduating from Northwestern University in 1950 with a degree in microbiology, she returned to her family’s shop, working alongside her brothers and soon appearing with one of them, Russell, on a local television talk show, on WBKB, to demonstrate flower arrangements.

Her on-camera presence impressed the station’s managers, and Ms. Phillip was asked to fill in as an announcer, a weather girl and a kind of home economics correspondent. She got her big break when the station was looking for someone to fill in for one of its leading talk show hosts, Lucky North, while Ms. North went on vacation.

“Young women from all over Chicago showed up and auditioned,” Ms. Bell said at the Daytime Emmys ceremony in 2007. “Lucky thought they were all too good and didn’t want to lose her job, so she convinced the station to hire me instead.”

The fill-in role led to stints hosting five- and 15-minute segments on weekdays and weeknights and ultimately to her own long-running show, “The Lee Phillip Show” (the name was changed a handful of times), on which she explored social issues and interviewed prominent people like Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan, Judy Garland, Clint Eastwood, Oprah Winfrey, Lucille Ball, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Her documentary specials for WBBM covered topics like foster care, divorce and rape. One special, “The Rape of Paulette,” in which she interviewed rape victims and examined a criminal justice system that often failed to bring rapists to justice, won a local Emmy and a DuPont Award from Columbia University after it aired in 1973. Her work for WBBM won 16 regional Emmys.

She met William Bell while he was working as an account executive for an advertising agency in the same building as WBBM. They married in 1954, and Mr. Bell quit his advertising job to write for several soap operas, including the perennial “Days of Our Lives.”

Ms. Bell continued to host and produce daytime talk shows for WBBM, but with her husband she also developed “The Innocent Years!” for CBS in 1972, before changing the title to “The Young and the Restless,” feeling it better fit the mood of the 1970s.

The couple moved to Southern California in 1986 to work on “The Bold and the Beautiful,” which became a kind of sister CBS show to “The Young and the Restless,” with several actors appearing on both.

Mr. Bell died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in 2005. Ms. Bell is survived by her sons, William and Bradley; her daughter, Lauralee Bell Martin, an actress who appears on “The Young and the Restless”; her brother Russell; and eight grandchildren.

William Bell is president and chief executive of Bell-Phillip Television Productions. Bradley Bell is executive producer and head writer for “The Bold and the Beautiful.” A daughter-in-law, Colleen Bell, was ambassador to Hungary under President Barack Obama and is executive director of the California Film Commission. Another daughter-in-law, Maria Arena Bell, is a former head writer of “The Young and the Restless.”

Though her shows were known for being progressive and, at times, provocative, Ms. Bell believed her work was simple at its core.

“We do the very same thing, don’t we — Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch and the daytime dramas,” she said on receiving her lifetime achievement award at the Daytime Emmys. “We reach out to people through our stories, through our words and examples. And hopefully, at the end of the day, we’ve touched someone’s life in a better way, and helped them.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting.



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