Monday, March 16, 2009

FLASHBACK: Lee Phillip is a Success in Any Rating (1976)

Lee Phillip is a success in any rating

By Mary Daniels
Chicago Tribune
April 4, 1976

Lee Phillip is not the kind of character her husband, Bill Bell, would write into one of his soap operas.

Yes this stable, pleasant woman as hostess of her own daily show on WBBM-TV (Channel 2) is as much must-viewing for a large segment of Chicago as the soaps. She has been around as long as some of them, too - 23 years.

Why has Lee lasted?

One gets a clue on tour of her airy, elegant apartment on East Lake Shore Drive overlooking Oak Street Beach.

Her husband, who writes two highly addictive soap operas, DAYS OF OUR LIVES and THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, has staked out most of the dining room with his work desk and jumbo TV set. A small book-lined den is his, also.

When asked where her study is, Lee shows you her bathroom sitting room, a mirrored, feminine retreat. Resting on the shelf that also serves as a dressing table are several books and some framed prayers.

It isn't something she particularly wants to talk about, but she is matter-of-face when asked.

"We are on this earth to serve, to make the most of ourselves. I always ask, 'Give me the opportunity to serve someone,' when I say my prayers in the morning. If I have not done someone something tangible during the day, that night I write out a check to charity; I call up someone I know is lonely or sick. A day that is not used to do something for someone else is a wasted day."

It doesn't take long to realize that this is a major theme in her life. Ask her about her show's longevity, and she modestly talks about its influence on others and not her influence on the show.

"The purpose of this show is to serve our viewers, leave them with something that applies to their lives." She says it is aimed at everyone. "This is not a woman-oriented show anymore. We never concentrated on the idea of change. It just happened. Basically, our program is to serve and entertain at the same time."

Lee Phillip is proof that a nice person doesn't have to finish last.

"I've been working since I was 5. I did a lot of sweeping the floor." However, it wasn't a cheerless childhood. She remembers playing Tarzan and other jungle games with her brother Jim. "I used to dance and pretend I was Shirley Temple."

Sometimes during busy holiday seasons, you may catch Lee and her children helping out at the main shop in La Grange. "We are a very close, religious family," she says.

Both she and her husband have similar backgrounds, she says. "Bill was a pinball boy, picked up golf balls, sold water sprinklers, mowed lawns."

"We lived in a one-room apartment with a pull-down bed when we first got married. We worked so hard we never had time to spend any money," she recalls. "Whatever we earned we saved. Bill believes in paying cash for things. We never had anything we couldn't afford." She stops and thinks for a moment.

"Bill did want a farm. We bought cattle, chickens, equipment. I used to feel I was working to feed the chickens. We gave each other a calf, and a manure spreader for Christmas. We lost money on everything!

To Time magazine's reference to her husband's income as more than $1 million a year, she replies, "Money has never been stressed in our family. We don't think how much are you making? All we know is, we're fulfilling what we want to do. That is one of the greatest luxuries in the world.

Some people dream of things. That's another thing we tell our children. Tangible things are not important; the only thing that is important, is us as a family unit."

And these strong family ties have kept her in Chicago. "I've been asked to go to Los Angeles and to New York. I've never seriously thought about it," she says. "From a practical point of view we should go to California because of Bill's work. He's nice enough to stay here. Both of our families are here."

When Lee first began her career, "somebody came into the store and said to my mother, 'What a shame your daughter is going into show business,'" Lee remembers. "She gave me a small Bible with my name on it so I wouldn't go astray."

Her mother can relax.


  1. These are amazing articles. There is so much here.

    1. They still lived on East Lakeshore Drive. I'd like to know if they stayed in the same apartment. It sounds like it...

    2. This clearly establishes the relative ages of the children. I'd sure love to be able to get a good scan of those pics...but I'm grateful beyond compare with what you've found.

    3. The emphasis on strong family, staying and working together, sure echoes the tight clans scripted on each Bell show.

    4. The emphasis on 'working your way up' echoes characters like Brad Carlton or Ryan McNeil, who went from laborer tasks to the mailroom to, eventually, the executive suite.

    4. The emphasis on Bible and prayer is less heavily played on Bell shows...but it shows up. (can we forget that Eric Forrester awoke from a coma after a prayerful Stephanie washed his feet, baptist style, one last time?)

    5. I wonder if that little television in the picture is the "jumbo TV"?

    6. Bill really pre-dated telecommuting. It is a testament to the strength of his teams that he could so effectively manage his shows from thousands of miles away. I think executive producers like John Conboy or "Head Writers" like Pat Falken Smith deserve a lot of credit for so skillfully implementing his vision back in the day.

    7. Bill wanted a farm. This is interesting...he obviously associated that, somehow, with simpler times and return to roots. On Days, he had amnesiac Mickey go to a farm...where he met his eventual soulmate, Maggie. On Y&R, Victor rediscovered himself on a Kansas farm...where he met the gentle spirit of Hope. Even today, his son with Hope (Adam) drives a next generation of storyline.

    8. They finally moved to LA in the 80s. Why? Had most of Bill and Lee's families of origin passed on? Was it that Lauralee was full time AND heavy in story on Y&R? Was it the additional pressures of starting B&B while running Y&R? Was it to be close to Bradley, who was by then going to school out there? Was it because Lee's show had ended?

    Thank you so much for this. I'd love to know more of what Lee's show was like? Was it a typical 30- or 60-minute show with 8-minute segments, where she'd talk about social issues (like the SPCA) and cooking and so forth?

    When did Lee's show go off the air, and why?

    I know you can't answer all these...but if you stumble upon any archival answers, please know you'll have some eager readers trying to piece together the puzzle.

  2. How funny - I live a stone's throw away from where they lived at Lake Shore and Oak. By "apartment" they really mean condo, and that is pretty prime lakefront real estate.

    Anonymous - Wikipedia says her Chicago show ran from 1952 to 1986. B&B launched in 1987 and I believe (but am not certain) that the Bells decided to move to California when the second show launched.

  3. Patrick, maybe you should buy their old place. :)

    I like these stories as they are a mix of human interest and history.

    It makes sense they would be out there by the time B&B went on the air.

  4. I'd love to know more about her show. And whether, when it ended in 1986, SHE ended it (because service and duty told her to move to California), or if the show had run its course.

    I'm guessing it is a combination of both. By '86 the Oprah rocket was ascending, and TV talk would be forever changed. Quaint local talk shows were almost done.

  5. From the Chicago Sun-Times, January 15, 1987:

    As expected, Lee Phillip has come to terms with WBBM-Channel 2 on a new one-year contract to continue as director of special projects and to host a series of specials for the station. But her Sunday morning talk show will bite the dust.


    It sounds like she wanted to leave (to move to CA) and they convinced her to stick around for an extra year in a limited capacity.

  6. Thanks.

    Now, I'm going to have to take the Roger Newcomb special education course in masterful internet sleuthing. Just an astounding gift!