Lee Phillip Bell, TV talk show, soap opera pioneer behind ‘Young and the Restless,’ dead at 91

She and her husband William Bell created that popular soap, around for nearly half a century, and ‘The Bold and the Beautiful,’ soon to mark 33 years on the air.

SHARE Lee Phillip Bell, TV talk show, soap opera pioneer behind ‘Young and the Restless,’ dead at 91
TV pioneer Lee Phillip Bell.

TV pioneer Lee Phillip Bell.


Lee Phillip Bell, a longtime talk show host who was dubbed the “First Lady of Chicago television” before going on to co-create two of TV’s longest-running soap operas, died Tuesday in Los Angeles at 91, her company announced.

She and her husband William J. Bell conceived “The Young and the Restless,” which is approaching the half-century mark and is the No. 1-watched TV soap, and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” which will mark 33 years on the air this year, according to Eva Basler, a vice president of Bell-Phillip Television Productions, who confirmed her death.

Mrs. Bell was born in Chicago, grew up in Riverside, attended Riverside Brookfield High School and graduated from Northwestern University. Her father, west suburban business leader James A. Phillip, founded Phillip’s Flowers in Cicero. The firm is still operated by relatives, Basler said.

Before she was an Emmy-winning TV executive, Mrs. Bell was a warm and trusted TV personality on WBBM-TV for more than 30 years, beginning in the 1950s.

Starting out, young Lee was dubbed a “Petticoat Prognosticator” — also known as a TV “weather girl.” She did promotional appearances for mattress companies and walked on fashion runways. As a hostess at a 1953 Navy Pier flower show, she dressed in a carnation-covered swimsuit that needed to be removed and dunked in water to keep it fresh.

On her talk show, “I worked seven days a week, interviewing exciting people like Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan on my talk show,” she wrote in a mini-memoir in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2012.

“Bill decided to leave advertising when he was hired by legendary television writer Irma Phillips, who created ‘Guiding Light’ and ‘As the World Turns,’ ” she wrote. “He stayed with her for 10 years, learning the industry and making trips to New York. Then he decided he’d create his own soap opera, and I thought it was a great idea because he’d be making more than $50 per week. That’s when he started ‘The Young and the Restless.’

“Bill used to create the grandest stories for the show,” Mrs. Bell said, “and he’d discuss them with me.”

After producing “The Bold and the Beautiful,” they moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, Basler said, where they lived in a home whose previous owners included Cary Grant and Howard Hughes.

She won 18 Emmy awards. In 1975, she received an Emmy for outstanding daytime drama for “The Young and the Restless.” In 2007, she earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for co-creating the two soap operas, which were among the first to address social issues including divorce and sexual assault. She also won 16 regional Emmy awards.

Lee Phillip Bell with husband William Bell in 1984.

Lee Phillip Bell with husband William Bell in 1984.

Gene Pesek / Sun-Times file

Her husband died in 2005. She is survived by her children William James Bell, Bradley Phillip Bell and Lauralee Bell Martin, who said in a written statement: “Our mother was a loving and supportive wife, mother and grandmother. Gracious and kind, she enriched the lives of all who knew her. We will miss her tremendously.” She is also survived by eight grandchildren.

Her daughter-in-law Colleen Bell became the U.S. ambassador to Hungary during the Obama administration and is executive director of the California Film Commission.

Services are pending.

Lee Phillip Bell and her husband William Bell in 1984.

Lee Phillip Bell and her husband William Bell in 1984.

Sun-Times file

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