Dialogue: Lee Phillip Bell

Daytime drama queen

By the time Lee Phillip Bell and her husband, William J. Bell, co-created CBS' "The Young and the Restless" in 1973 (and "The Bold and the Beautiful" in 1987), she was already a veteran of the small screen. She hosted a local Chicago show ("The Lee Phillip Show") on CBS from 1952-86, interviewing political figures and exploring social and health issues -- then later finding a way to fictionalize those stories for the soaps. Today, the 78-year-old still has an office at Bell-Phillip Television Prods., daughter Lauralee stars on "Y&R," younger son Bradley executive produces and writes "B&B," and elder son Bill runs the company. Bell recently fit The Hollywood Reporter's Randee Dawn into her busy schedule to discuss the NTA's Daytime Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award she'll receive on June 14, being a radical feminist without ever considering herself one and why soaps are still relevant today.

The Hollywood Reporter: Do you remain actively involved with both of your soaps?
Lee Phillip Bell: Well, I come to work every day. I'm at work right now. I talked to Bradley this morning. I talk to Bill whenever it's possible -- he's pretty busy. I love it. I don't think I would feel right not coming to work.

THR: You're a long way from the microbiology degree you earned at Northwestern University.
Bell: That's what I was going to do. But when I graduated from Northwestern, I worked for my dad (at the family florist shop). Then a television station called up and asked my brother if he would come down and arrange flowers. He said he would bring his sister along to wire the flowers and do whatever odd jobs he had to do. (Later), they decided to ask me to take the place of a gal that was doing the shows on the air every day. Then when CBS bought the station, they asked three of us to go to CBS -- Frank Reynolds (who later became ABC co-anchor with Howard K. Smith and Peter Jennings), Bruce Roberts (a Chicago sportscaster) and myself -- and I didn't know any better. That turned out to be wonderful.

THR: It was unusual at the time for a woman to earn a degree in science or have a career in TV news. Did you feel like a radical?
Bell: No, I just went and did it. I loved doing the shows. They were fun for me to do in most cases. I never thought about being the first or anything. I just did it every day -- and it was great.

THR: Did you ask hard-hitting questions once you had your own show?
Bell: My producer said I should ask (first lady Nancy Reagan) about her daughter (Patti Davis), who was at that point living with a hippie or something. She was very surprised, and she said, "Well, I don't talk about that." I said, "Well, we'd like to know." I really should apologize because it wasn't my idea to ask about her daughter, but I did.

THR: "Y&R" was your husband's concept, so where did you fit in as co-creator?
Bell: We would go out to Lake Geneva (in Wisconsin) every Friday afternoon. We'd pick up the children at school, and we'd talk all the way out about "The Young and the Restless." And he would tell me his ideas, and I would tell him what I thought, and we worked on the (show) opening from about 1970-73.

THR: You got ideas from your local TV show for topics that would work on the soap?
Bell: Let's say we're going to do alcoholism, then we would have an expert on alcoholism. I would learn about alcoholism and what caused it, what they did to prevent it, so forth and so on. And then I would tell Bill about it. He would take the idea of alcoholism and put it on his show, and I would have to tell him all about what I learned. We'd have alcoholics on the shows, and I would learn how they counsel them, and (when) we did one on homelessness, we'd get homeless people on the show.

THR: Were you surprised that these subjects could be discussed on television?
Bell: We thought that they should be talked about. We thought that people should be aware of things like date rape and cults and runaway children. They should know about them and what they can do about it. We used to get just tons of mail thanking us for doing those things. And we'd write them so they were interesting.

THR: Are you surprised by the road you took in your life?
Bell: It's mind-boggling. It's such an overwhelming happening that it's wonderful. I love it.

THR: Over the years, have you come up with a philosophy that's kept you going?
Bell: Just go and make the best of everything -- that's my way of doing it.