Credit: 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.


Bell made stars of countless actors, among them Susan Flannery (for whom he first wrote when she was Laura on Days of Our Lives), Eric Braeden (whom he recruited to play Young & Restless’ Victor) and Katherine Kelly Lang (the original Bold & Beautiful cast member who plays Brooke).

Credit: NBC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection, CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection, CBS

More: Young & Restless’ best characters, ranked [PHOTOS]

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.

Michelle Stafford, Doug Davidson, Victoria Rowell, and Bill Bell"Young & Restless" 30th Anniversary Party Beverly Hills Hotel 3/29/03 ©Jesse Grant/JPI 310-657-9661

Bell celebrated the 30th anniversary of Young & Restless with Phyllis, Paul and Drucilla’s portrayers, Michelle Stafford, Doug Davidson and Victoria Rowell.

Credit: Jesse Grant/JPI

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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.