On the Heartbreaking Anniversary of His Passing, We Look Back at the Life and Career of Young & Restless and Bold & Beautiful’s Legendary Co-Creator, William J. Bell
Lisa Rose/JPI, Jesse Grant/JPI (2), Aaron Montgomery/JPI (2)
On April 29, 2005, daytime lost, if not its greatest talent, certainly one of them.
Few and far between are the soap writers who know as well as the late, great William J. Bell did how to get an audience’s attention and keep it. He was a master of provocation and titillation, innovation and inspiration, a puppeteer from whose strings hung our emotions.
They don’t make ’em like him anymore — and daytime television is all the poorer for it.
An Auspicious Beginning
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 so he could 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.)
Birth of an Empire
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.
A Dark Day for Daytime
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, 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.