Soap opera writer, creator William J. Bell dies at 78

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Sunday, May 1, 2005

Soap opera writer and creator William J. Bell, best known for his record-setting 25-year-long tenure writing the top-rated The Young and the Restless, died Friday at the age of 78.

Bell was born on March 6, 1927 in Chicago, Illinois. He first helped fellow Chicago resident Irna Phillips, the "Queen of the Soap Opera," write the soap opera As the World Turns in the late 1950s. The two forged a partnership which lasted for much of the following decade. Bell helped create Another World with Phillips, and then wrote Phillips' creation Days of Our Lives from 1966 to 1975.

The ratings for Days of Our Lives rose to near the top of the daytime rankings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Bell then became a hot commodity, and scripted a soap pilot of his own. With the help of his wife, Chicago talk show host Lee Phillip Bell, he pitched The Young and the Restless to CBS executives, which agreed to air the show starting in 1973. Like Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless focused primarily on young, beautiful characters, while still maintaining balance throughout the rest of the cast. Bell was the head writer of the series for a record amount of time, from 1973 until his retirement in 1998; no one person wrote a daily television series for such an uninterrupted period of time. In 1988, The Young and the Restless became the highest-rated soap opera on US television, an honor the show continues to hold today.

The Bell husband-and-wife team also created The Bold and the Beautiful, a glamorous serial set around the fashion industry in Beverly Hills, in 1987. Bell won three Emmys for his writing on The Young and the Restless, and one for Days of Our Lives. Bell won five more Emmys for producing the latter serial.

At the time of his death, Bell was battling Alzheimer's disease. He had three children, William Jr., Bradley, and Lauralee; all three of his children had various jobs on his soaps. William Jr. is president of Bell-Phillip Television Productions, Inc., Bradley is the executive producer and head writer of The Bold and the Beautiful, and Lauralee plays Christine Williams on The Young and the Restless.