A Year After Her Passing, a Tribute to a Beloved Soap Trailblazer and Her Daytime Legacy
CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection
Lee Phillip Bell and husband William J. Bell gave us some of the most enduring soaps and beloved characters ever to grace daytime.
When Lee Phillip Bell passed away on February 25, 2020, at the age of 91, we lost not just a soap-opera legend but a television pioneer. It’s impossible to overstate the mark she left on the genre. The shows that she and her husband, the late William J. Bell, created have not just survived into the new millennium but thrived. The Young and the Restless has held the top spot in the country since 1987. And The Bold and the Beautiful has been the most-watched soap in the world for decades.
But that’s not even close to half of what Lee Phillip Bell accomplished.
She was born Loreley June Phillip to a family of florists in Chicago — which naturally led her into broadcasting! No, seriously. After graduating from college with a microbiology degree, she’d accompany her brother as he demonstrated flower arrangements for a segment on a local talk show. Eventually, she started appearing in front of the camera instead of him. Bell’s dreams, though, didn’t stop with flowers, and when the station offered her more spots, she took every one she could.
Bell was a weather forecaster, morning TV host, variety show and children’s show host, and was Chicago’s first news anchorwoman. But it was when she got her own talk show, The Lee Phillip Show, that her star really began to rise. She served as both host and producer for over 30 years, interviewing everyone from Richard Nixon to Judy Garland.
You can get a taste of Bell in front of the camera below, as she interviews jazz legend Connee Boswell, talks up vaccines and shows off a slew of products for “modern housewives” from show sponsor Tidy House.
OK, that vaccine segment may hit a bit close to home, but it showed that Bell wasn’t interested in just doing talk fluff. Like soap operas have done throughout history, she wanted to tackle societal problems that much of the rest of the television world did its best to ignore. Date rape, prisoners’ rights, breast-cancer exams — Bell didn’t flinch from once-taboo topics.
She’d then pass on what she learned on to her husband, who would weave the issues into his own storytelling as a writer on Another World, As The World Turns and Guiding Light.
So when CBS wanted a “youthful” soap opera to compete with ABC’s fare, the Bells decided it was time to officially join forces to create what would become The Young and the Restless. And over a decade later when CBS wanted a show to replace the soon-to-be-defunct Capitol, the marrieds created a sister show for Young & Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful.
Really, from the moment they met, the Bells were partners in every sense of the word. “When I started in television,” she explained in 1977 on PBS’ Chicago Tonight, “what I needed more than anything was a good writer.” Her husband, she proudly proclaimed, was an excellent writer. “He helped me tremendously at the beginning of my career. Now I have a chance to help him. And I do whenever I can with ideas and research.”
Though over the years the elder Bells handed the reigns of the company over to their children, Lee maintained close ties with her beloved soaps to the day she died. She was a television trailblazer, and while her partnership with her husband is the stuff of soap legends, she was more than capable of standing on her own, towering merits.
And let’s face it, the soaps that Bell co-created wouldn’t be the same without the amazing characters we’ve grown to love, so before you go, why not take a look back at some of the greatest characters from her youngest soap “child,” The Bold and the Beautiful?