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The first lady of Chicago television tells how she fell in love

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Updated: August 7, 2012 6:37AM

Hosting live television shows for more than 30 years on Chicago’s WBBM-TV was full of surprises. Like the day when a young man named Bill Bell, who worked at a local ad agency, called to book a guest. I had a cancellation to fill, and his client was a home economist from Pillsbury, so I said she could come on the show. I don’t remember her name — in fact, I don’t even remember meeting Bill — but he called me the next day to ask me out for coffee, and a year and a half later, we were married.

In those early days, I worked seven days a week, interviewing exciting people like Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe and Ronald Reagan on my talk show.

Bill worked even more than I did, because he’d help me, and then he’d do his own work. People often called him either “Mr. Phillip” or “Bob Bell,” who played TV’s Bozo the Clown. But Bill never got mad; he thought it was funny and he’d keep smiling. He had a marvelous smile.

Bill decided to leave advertising when he was hired by legendary television writer Irma Phillips, who created “Guiding Light” and “As the World Turns.” 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, and he’d discuss them with me. On weekends, we’d go to Lake Geneva, where my folks owned a farm, with our three kids — our sons William and Brad and our beautiful daughter Lauralee Bell, who plays Christine “Cricket” Blair on “Y&R.”

Years later, based on the success of that show, we also started “The Bold and the Beautiful” — and that was when we picked up our family and moved from Chicago to L.A.

We had a wonderful marriage, and every day was a gift, but for the last six years of his life, Bill suffered from Alzheimer’s. He couldn’t drive anymore, and he didn’t even remember who I was, but he was loving and caring until the end.

Bill passed away in 2005. At that point, we had been married 50 years. I still think of him every day.

I’ve put all of my favorite memories in a new book called The Young and Restless Life of William J. Bell. Our life together was a great romance filled with surprises and born in the great city that we will forever call home: Chicago.

Lee Phillip Bell donated her fee for writing this article to the Salvation Army.

Lee’s son, Brad Bell, is an investor in Sun-Times parent company Wrapports.

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