Credit: John Paschal/JPI, CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection (2), CBS, NBC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection

It is not an exaggeration to say that on March 6, 1927, a star was born.

They don’t make ’em anymore like William J. Bell, and daytime television is all the poorer for it.

Seriously — would you even need two hands to count the writers who were his equal, the few geniuses of the genre who shared his gift for crafting compelling storylines that sprang from character (rather than what today is the norm: shoehorning characters into plot points that make little or no sense for them)?

We didn’t think so.

The Best of All Possible Teachers

The former ad man began his soap career learning from the best, Guiding Light and As the World Turns creator Irna Phillips, with whom he worked at both of those shows and, in 1965, created a primetime spinoff of the latter. Only a year later, his reputation for spinning gold from his typewriter was beginning to precede him. Bell was recruited by Days of Our Lives to make watching the struggling new soap feel less like staring at sand dropping in an hourglass. 

How successful was the rising star? So successful that in 1972, when he made plans to quit to run his own show, The Innocent Years — which was ultimately rechristened The Young and the Restless — Days of Our Lives sued to keep him penning its longterm story. (Yes, this was back in the era when soaps actually mapped out longterm story.)

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The innocent years, these weren’t!

Credit: CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection (2)

A Dynasty Begins

When The Young and the Restless debuted in 1973, it wasn’t an out-of-the-gate smash. Bell is said to have become so frustrated that he asked to pull the plug early on. But CBS believed in the soap — and in Bell — and in the end, the network’s faith paid off. Since 1988, the show has been atop the Nielsen ratings. (And at the time, there were 13 soaps on the air!)

Even before Young & Restless became the juggernaut that it did, CBS wanted more from Bell. So when the network removed Capitol from the map in 1987, it turned to its resident Midas for a replacement and got The Bold and the Beautiful — aka the most-watched soap in the world.

More: Bold & Beautiful’s best characters, ranked [PHOTOS]

THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, creators, producers and writers William J. Bell (left), and Lee Phillip Bell, 1990s, 1973-. © CBS /Courtesy Everett Collection

Bell created both Young & Restless and Bold & Beautiful with his late wife, Lee Phillip Bell.

Credit: CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection

The End of an Era

In a way, Bell will live forever, in the indelible memories that he put in all our heads, of Days of Our Lives’ controversial Bill/Laura/Mickey triangle, of Young & Restless’ infamous Lauren/Sheila feud, of Bold & Beautiful’s original Sally Spectra, a role he created specifically for the late Darlene Conley.

But sadly, the wordsmith’s time on Earth came to an end on April 29, 2005, when he passed away at age 78 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. On this occasion, however — what would have been his 96th birthday — let’s not dwell on goodbyes that we never wanted to say. Let’s instead flash back to better days, via the photo gallery below, which revisits highlights of Young & Restless’ entire run.