Referred to as “the first lady of Chicago television”, she was a trailblazer for many who followed
The Chicago media community is mourning the loss of one of the tremendous pioneers of local television.
Lee Phillip Bell passed away Wednesday at the age of 91 in her California home. Bell, along with her husband William, created the soaps The Young And The Restless and The Bold And The Beautiful, who debuted on CBS in 1973 and 1987 respectively and each still going strong for the network today. But in Chicago TV circles, Mrs. Bell was known for much more – a 30-year career in local television.
Phillip’s career in television began in 1953 at an unusual place – her father’s flower shop where she worked part-time. A local flower organization group offered flowers to any local station interested and WBKB-TV (Channel 4) took them up on the offer as Phillip arrganed flowers for the station, leading to her first appearance. General manager Red Quinlan liked what he saw and hired her, leading to her own show titled Mornin’ Miss Lee – not to mention other TV shows as Phillip became one of the station’s first personalities. During this time, CBS bought WBKB (and renamed it WBBM-TV as the call letters shifted to Channel 7) and moved down the dial from Channel 4 to Channel 2 due to interference with nearby Milwaukee (WTMJ) and Kalamazoo, Mich. stations (WKZO-TV, now WWMT.)
In the 1960s, Mornin’ Miss Lee was retitled The Lee Phillip Show and became a noon mainstay at WBBM. During this time, Phillip interviewed numerous celebrates, politicians, and dignitaries from all walks of life, including Walter Cronkite, Jerry Lewis, Judy Garland, Wally Phillips, and Michael Jordan, among others. She also interviewed four sitting U.S. Presidents: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan (first ladies Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan also appeared on the show.)
In 1977, her show evolved again and became Noonbreak and she was paired with anchors such as Mort Crim, Bob Wallace, and Harry Porterfield, as Phillip interviewed some of the people I mentioned above. To make room for Phil Donahue’s syndicated talk show in WBBM’s daytime lineup, Noonbreak was canceled on December 31, 1981, but Phillip was given a new Sunday morning show which once again became The Lee Phillip Show and ran until 1987.
Phillip used her show to advocate for issues affecting women’s and children’s health – she devoted entire shows to polio and breast cancer. She also investigated other issues including teenage pregnancy and runaways.
She also wore a variety of hats at the station (sometimes literally!) from children’s host to weather forecaster, and she also anchored the news from time to time on The CBS News Special on Saturday Nights, working alongside Fahey Flann and Jerry Dunphy.
Phillip also hosted the groundbreaking special The Rape Of Paulette in 1973, where she interviewed a victim of sexual assault as the documentary won numerous Emmy awards. During her time in local television, Phillip won sixteen Emmys, and became the first woman to receive a Governor’s Award from the Chicago chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, or NATAS for short.
Phillip and her husband were inducted into the Chicago Silver Circle in 1994.
Shortly after her show concluded, she and husband William relocated to the Los Angeles area to focus writing for the two soap operas they created. Both The Young And The Restless and The Bold And The Beautiful won a combined 41 Daytime Emmy Awards and helped keep CBS on top in daytime with a winning streak dating back to the mid-1980s.
William Bell died in 2005 due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease; they were married for 51 years.
Lee Phillip Bell and her husband are survived by their three children.