DC Interview: Bell Biographer Michael Maloney on Collaborating With Lee Phillip Bell, Family Legacy and What Made Bill Bell a Storyteller
There aren't many men who know what it's like to collaborate with Chicago-talk-queen-turned-soap-opera-legend Lee Phillip Bell. There was her late husband, the legendary William J. Bell, whom she co-created two of CBS Daytime's long-running hits, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful, with. Now there's also veteran soap journalist Michael Maloney, the man Phillip Bell chose to help tell her prolific husband's life story in The Young and Restless Life of William J. Bell: Creator of The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful. For his part, Maloney is quite aware of what auspicious company he's been keeping while working with Phillip Bell on the tome.
"Whenever I see my name in a press release, or on the cover of the book with Lee Phillip Bell, I think, 'The last time I might have seen something with her name on it, with someone else, was probably on the credits of Y&R and B&B.' You know, 'co-created by'. I'm thinking that's pretty damn good company to be in!"
You wouldn't find many soap fans, addicted to the countless hours of daytime television enjoyment the Bells have provided over the past several decades, who would disagree with Maloney's assertion. The author worked with Phillip Bell, as well as several of the late Bill Bell's friends, colleagues and children, for years in creating The Young and Restless Life of William J. Bell. The biography spans Bell's entire lifes and tells the story of his great love for Lee, their children and the daytime dramas they created together.
"My joke is that I'm not sure I captured Bill's genius, and if I did, we could sell it for more than what we're selling it for," said Maloney, who added that he drew on the works of other TV critics who had been covering the Bell family soaps even longer than his 20-year tenure. "There were a lot of critics who were around long before I was. I drew heavily upon their analysis and critiques of Bill's work. They were comparing him, not to just four or five other shows, but there were probably 14, 15 other shows going on when Y&R started? So when they made their observations about why Bill was different—what made him so good—I tried to put as much of that in the book as possible."
Don't pick up Phillip Bell and Maloney's passion project thinking you're purchasing a "How-To" guide on writing soaps. Maloney said he specifically wanted The Young and Restless Life of William J. Bell to be about more than just "Bill Bell: The Writer".
"The book is hopefully more than a chronicle of his life," said Maloney. "It shows that their [Bill and Lee's] story was a love story. There wasn't a lot of talk with [Bell protégés] Kay [Alden] and Jack [Smith] about how they specifically would block out the shows. While I think that's very interesting, I think Bill's stories just kind of speak for themselves."
The Young and Restless Life of William J. Bell does explore in great detail the late Bell's rise from an advertising man, to an apprentice soap scribe—working under the legendary Procter & Gamble dynamo Irna Phillips (As The World Turns, Guiding Light, Another World et al.)—then going on to save a fledgling Days of Our Lives, before creating his own family soap dynasty, by launching Y&R with his wife on CBS in 1973.
Some 14 years later, the Bells would create the splashy, modern, half-hour sudser The Bold and the Beautiful, which transplanted the Chicago-based clan to sunny Los Angeles. Both soaps are still on the air today, with the Bells' eldest son, Bill Jr. overseeing business operations; son Bradley serving as showrunner and head writer of The Bold and the Beautiful, daughter Lauralee continuing to act on Y&R on occasion, as well as running her own production company and Bill Jr.'s wife, Maria Arena Bell, helming the late Bell's passion project, Y&R.
"I think any time you have a family-run business—and there is active involvement from the family—you stand to have a stronger, more unified product," said Maloney when asked if he believed the continued involvement of the Bell offspring had served the soaps in good stead.
In addition to the Bell family, Maloney credits late soap writer Jerry Birn with helping him fill in the blanks on who the real Bill Bell was.
"He and Bill had a great friendship."
On what made Bell one of the great auteurs of psychologically-based storytelling, Maloney shared this anectode, unpublished in the book and provided by an actress who had worked for Bell.
"An actress told me that Bill said to her once, 'I know you just got married; are you planning on having any children?' The actress said, 'Yes, we were going to start right away.' Bill asked the actress if she wouldn't mind waiting a year, because it was going to fit better with a story that he already had planned out in his head," shared Maloney. "He knew where he was going as a writer. He left himself open for byroads, but he knew where he was going."
Bill Bell passed away due to complications from Alzheimer's disease on April 29, 2005. He was 78. To purchase The Young and Restless Life of William J. Bell: Creator of The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful click here.