Tuesday, September 21, 2010

FLASHBACK: He's (Bill Bell) Wed to a Celebrity 1958

He's Wed to a Celebrity

She's Lee Phillip--and Their Marriage Is Successful

By Norma Lee Browning
Chicago Daily Tribune
August 27, 1958

What's it like, being married to a celebrity wife?

"It takes some adjusting," admits Bill Bell Jr., who still hankers to be known by his own name instead of Mr. Lee Phillip.

Lee happens to be Mrs. Bill Bell Jr., [instead of vice versa] but her public knows her as Lee Phillip, that wholesomely beautiful blonde darling of television. She and Bill have been wed three and a half years.

He was disconcerted at first to hear his wife mumble sweet nothings in his ear that were really television commercials.

"But," he explains, "she's a hard working girl and it takes her hours to learn those TV bits."

Fortunately he has a broad minded outlook on fame. Lee lightly accuses him of marrying her out of sympathy. He says she married him to acquire a script writer.

Meet at Studios

They met in the CBS studios and it wasn't love at first sight. It took Bill six months to get around to asking for the first date. Actually he wasn't myopic, but every time he bumped into Lee - whose weather show with those crazy bats immediately followed the news show he wrote for an ad agency - she seemed to be mumbling commercials.

Bill decided she was over-worked, offered to help her write some of her shows - and romance blossomed.

Besides assuming his wife's name with marriage, Bill Bell has reversed the traditional husband-wife role by staying home while his wife goes off to a job. But it isn't really as lopsided as it may look to the neighbors. He does pretty well in his own right.

He's chief script writer for Irna Phillips [no connection with Lee Phillip], known as the queen of the soap opera writers, whose half hour day time serial, AS THE WORLD TURNS, immediately follows Lee Phillip's SHOPPING WITH MISS LEE program at noon. Actually, Bill is tied to the typewriter 10 to 14 hours a day turning out scripts for Lee Phillip and Irna Phillips while his wife puts in a 10 hour day six days a week at the WBBM-TV studios. He works in an office-den in their Lake Shore drive apartment. Lee and Bill sometimes see each other coming and going.

Her life is crammed with glamor activities of the entertainment world - cocktail and dinner parties, fashion shows, benefits, trips. When they go to parties together Bill good-naturedly takes a back seat while people cluster around his lovely wife.

"Fortunately," says Lee, "I have a very understanding husband."

2-Way Arrangement

Bill counters, "That works both ways. It's the wife's attitude that can either make or break a marriage."

The secret to making success of marriage when the wife's career causes her to outshine her husband, both feel, is in their work. Bill and Lee are absorbed in that, both put in a working day that would stagger many people, and they complement each other in their respective jobs.

"This is important," they agree. "It would be difficult for a man with a 9 to 5 job in a field that's completely different from his wife's to be understanding about her career, especially if she had to go out on business or social engagements without him.

Apart from the many public appearances Lee is obliged to make without Bill, their work dovetails beautifully. She reads all his scripts, he watches all her shows, they are each other's severest critics. They often work together on her shows far into the night after they've finished their days' work.

The Bells do little socializing or entertaining outside of that required for business reasons. Their weekday evenings are usually spent together scripting - reading, writing or tearing apart - and watching television shows.

Week-Ends Off

From 6:30 p.m. Saturday, after Lee's final show, until 6:30 a.m. Monday they knock off work. Sundays and holidays are usually spent with their families.

They indulge in few of the extravagances that usually go along with success. They do not have a maid, they drive last year's car, Lee does her own grocery shopping and cooking - with Bill's help, of course - and they live on his income, which matches hers. She's the Big Wheel in public but he's boss at home. He handles the family finances.

"I think it's important for a man to be able to stand on his own feet," says Lee, "and to be as successful in his field as the wife is in hers."

Both realize that success built on a big name personality, especially in the entertainment field, may be here today and gone tomorrow. So Lee's income goes into a joint savings account for a family [they want at least four], a greenhouse, a trip around the world, and an orphanage.

'Potted Petunia'

Lee grew up in a greenhouse and is affectionately called "the Potted Petunia" by her TV co-workers. Her father, James A. Phillip, is a florist with shops in Cicero and La Grange Park and she was named Loreley [for a French flower] June Phillip.

Off the air as well as on, Loreley looks like her name. She radiates a warm, unsophisticated, healthy, all-American-girl charm. She neither smokes nor drinks.

She went to Northwestern University to study botany with the idea of going into the flower business with her father. Her enthusiasm for sciences led her to switch and she decided to become a doctor, but later settled on bacteriology as a career.

Curiously enough Bill's and Lee's college backgrounds have much in common. His ambition, too, was to be a doctor. He had finished his pre-med training at the University of Michigan and DePauw University when he got side-tracked into radio via editing a college shopping guide.

It was Lee's green thumb that detoured her into TV. After being graduated from college she agreed to work in her father's flower shop a year, then get a job as a bacteriologist.

And So to TV

Then, one day when her father was busy, she carried some flowers and containers downtown for him to help demonstrate flower arranging on a TV station. She knew nothing about TV.

But she knew flowers and loved them and blossomed like one herself as she arranged them in any way the TV cameraman asked her and never stopped talking or smiling. There was no money in it, but it was fun.

The night before she was to report for work as a bacteriologist in the research laboratory at Hines veterans hospital, she got a call from the TV station [WBKB]. Would she like to come to work as an announcer the next day - for pay?

Scared still, she called her Northwester speech teacher and said, "I'm going to be a television announcer tomorrow. What'll I do?" He advised her to get a good night's sleep.

She showed up on her first announcing job - seven years ago - with a batch of flowers from her father's greenhouse. She still keeps a fresh bouquet handy when she goes on a show.


  1. What a gift! I'd love to find some vintage clips of Lee's Chicago shows. Phil Donahue once called Lee "the reason he was on the air".

    They wanted four children, but only had three.

    The youngest, Lauralee (note similarity to Loreley...and Bell's first Y&R seductress, Lauralee-called-Lorie), was born in December 1968. Brad Bell, the middle child, was born in June 1964. I can't readily find a birthdate for Bill Jr., but I'd guess he was born within two years or so of this article.

    I'd also love to know if they stayed in that apartment all the way till their departure for LA in the 1980s, or if they "traded up" in Chicago before leaving.

    Roger, we're counting on you to find out these things, LOL.

  2. Actually, one source gives William Jr's birthdate as 16 April 1962. If that is true (and it sounds right), then the Bells still had about three pre-parental years after this article was published.

  3. This is one of my favorite classic articles. A lot of this stuff I didn't know.

    Their first son was born in 1962 http://www.welovesoaps.net/2009/03/flashback-jack-benny-babysits-for-bells.html

  4. Wow, Roger. This was quite a find. I'd read a lot about the Bells over the years as a fan of the CBS soaps they created, and I'd even come across things from the era of Bill's tenure on DAYS. But this predates all of that, so it's really cool to read.

    One thing that caught my eye is that it referred to Bill as "Bill Bell, Jr." Does that mean his son who now runs business affairs for his two CBS soaps is actually Bill Bell, III?

  5. Actually, I started to post a comment about Y&R earlier but I changed my mind. I will add it here. I saw an interview with Bill Bell about the time that Y&R began and he said that the characters in Y&R were named after Bell family members hence Lauralee Brooks, Bill "Snapper" Foster, etc.
    I am from Chicago and I watched Lee Phillip's show as child as a lead-in to ATWT. She truly is a lovely woman and stunning to look at.
    I don't think that the Bells stayed at 910 Lake Shore Drive, as the apartments there are nice size but not large but they did stay in the neighborhood. If I remember correctly, they also later had a home in the suburbs.
    I'll ask my Mom if she remembers which building they lived in.