William J. Bell, 78; Co-Created Two Top Daytime Soap Operas

Times Staff Writer

William J. Bell, the Emmy-winning co-creator of two of television's most successful soap operas, "The Young and the Restless" and "The Bold and the Beautiful," has died. He was 78.

Bell died Friday at UCLA Medical Center of complications from Alzheimer's disease, according to a statement from his production company.

A leading figure in daytime television as a writer, producer and creator for more than four decades, Bell won nine Emmys, including a lifetime achievement award presented in 1992.

"Bill Bell is one of the true pioneers of daytime television.... He is without peer in his ability to create the most compelling, endearing stories and characters and keep them fascinating for years on end," CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves said in a statement Saturday.

Bell, born in Chicago, grew up listening to radio soap operas when he came home from school for lunch. After serving in the Navy, he attended DePaul University and landed a job at CBS in Chicago writing a comedy show. He met Irna Phillips, a pioneer in soap operas and the creator of "The Guiding Light," in 1954 and went to work for her as a writer two years later.

That same year, he married Lee Phillip, a broadcast journalist in Chicago. In 1957, he began writing for "As the World Turns," a job that lasted nine years.

With Phillips, Bell co-created "Our Private World," prime-time television's first soap opera, in 1964. A spinoff of "As the World Turns," the show, which aired Wednesday and Friday nights, ran for just five months in 1965.

In 1966, he took the job of head writer on "Days of Our Lives." The show had been on the air for 26 weeks and appeared headed for cancellation.

Changes in cast, writing talent and story lines brought about by Bell are credited with reviving the show and getting it renewed for another season. Within four years it was one of the highest-rated shows in daytime television.

Bell was still the head writer on "Days of Our Lives" when he and his wife created "The Young and the Restless," which received numerous Emmy Awards over the years, including six for outstanding drama series, most recently in 2004.

"The Young and the Restless" is the saga of two wealthy Midwestern families in the cosmetics industry, the Newmans and the Abbots. It featured actors David Hasselhoff, who was on the series for seven years, and Tom Selleck, who appeared for two, before they made their big breaks in prime-time television.

In 1987, the Bells created "The Bold and the Beautiful," the story of the Forrester family and the fashion industry in Los Angeles.

Asked some years ago to define his success, Bell replied that much of it was in the characters.

"You have to have darn good characters that people like, admire, can relate to or hate but feel some kind of emotion about," he told the Montreal Gazette.

Story line is also important, Bell added.

"Romance is probably the most important thing in everyone's life, next to health," Bell told The Times some years ago. "We love to live it, and we love to watch others."

Participation in his shows has become a family affair. In addition to his wife, a longtime co-creator and consultant, his daughter Lauralee is one of the lead actresses on "The Young and the Restless."

His son Bill is president of Bell's two production companies. And another son, Bradley, took over the head writing and executive producer chores of "The Bold and the Beautiful" from his father in 1993.

In addition to his wife and children, Bell is survived by eight grandchildren.

Funeral services are pending.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Alzheimer's Assn.

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