Soap Icon Bill Bell and the Emmy That Got Away
Behind the scenes with 'Young and the Restless' and 'Bold and the Beautiful' creator
The late William J. Bell was one of soap opera's most honored players, and now, daytime fans can get to know the man behind the legacy. His life and career are detailed in the new biography, “The Young and Restless Life of William J. Bell: Creator of ‘The Young and the Restless’ and ‘The Bold and the Beautiful,'" on stands now. The book is filled with the family man's many highs, not to mention a forward from David Hasselhoff, but it also includes lows like the time Bell had a Daytime Emmy win taken from his hands (see excerpt below).
Bell’s wife and collaborator of 50 years Lee Phillip Bell teamed up with veteran soap opera journalist Michael Maloney to give fans a behind-the-scenes glimpse at a man who played a pivotal role in the soap opera industry. The biography includes insight into why Bell left behind his advertising career in the ‘50s to take on daytime drama and traces his successes - from training under legendary Irna Phillips to saving “Days of our Lives” in the '60s; through creating soaps like “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful” and up to how his family is keeping his legacy alive today.
In honor of the upcoming Daytime Emmys, MSN TV is sharing an excerpt about the golden girl who got away from Bell back at the 13th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards in 1986. (Don't worry: There were more Daytime Emmy wins to come for him, his shows and his children, including his own Lifetime Achievement Award.)
“And the winner is…the writing team from ‘The Young and the Restless.’”
Y&R’s trademark opening theme was played as a smiling Bill and his writers left their seats and maneuvered their way through the maze of banquet tables. Fashions that day ran the gamut. ‘Miami Vice’ was a popular show at the time so there were a few Sonny Crockett imitators among the male presenters. ‘Santa Barbara’’s A Martinez and Marcy Walker wore matching tuxedos. Bill’s look, however, was, as always, timeless and classic. He wore a navy-blue sports coat and tie. He walked up the stairs to the podium, his arm around writer Jack Smith, who’d traveled from Honolulu to attend the ceremony.
“Who says writers don’t have fun?” Bill chuckled after giving a few congratulatory kisses to his female scribes. “This is how we write the scenes!”
Emmy in hand, Bill proudly turned to his writers and, referring to a popular storyline that was currently airing, teased, “Behind me are the only people who know who really shot Jill Abbott!
“We’ve put in long hours and many years waiting for this moment,” he said. “It has arrived and everything I planned to say has gone right out the window! I can certainly empathize with our actors more and more. Thanks very much!”
Bill was joyful, beaming, grateful, charming, and humble. He didn’t take the honor of winning the award for best writing lightly.
As it turned out, he wasn’t taking it at all.
The next day, in his suite at the Park Lane Hotel, Bill received a call from Michael Brockman, CBS’s Daytime chief. Brockman had the unenviable task of informing Bill that there’d been a tabulation error with the accounting firm hired by NATAS. Long and her scribes at ‘GL’ had won the award for best writing—not Bill and his team.
“The snafu was unprecedented in the history of showbiz awards and has not been repeated at another trophy show since,” says Tom O’Neil, author of “The Emmys.”
“’Guiding Light’ had won the award, but because of a mistake made by the firm, Coopers & Lybrand, tabulating the results, the prize was wrongly bestowed to ‘Y&R.’ Only after the show did some people start to notice that the winner announced at the ceremony didn’t match the champ listed in the official press release.”
“The mix-up occurred at the accountant’s level,” confirmed the academy’s Michael Llach.
“The academy called and said a horrible mistake has been made,” Brockman recalls. “I said, ‘Don’t do anything. I don’t want Bill to hear this from anyone but me. I don’t want his shock or emotion to hit anyone else. Let him yell and scream at me.’ That was my instinct.”
Bill couldn’t believe it when Brockman gave him the news.
He hadn’t walked away Emmy-free that day. ‘Y&R’ also won the award for Outstanding Drama Series, its fourth in that category, but Bill felt that award belonged equally, if not more, to the show’s control-booth producers.
“Although I’m a producer and have been for many, many years, I consider myself more than anything a writer, a storyteller,” Bill said. “I take great pride in the stories we tell and how we tell them.”
Therefore, if NATAS was going to ask Bill to return one of the two Emmys from that day, Brockman says with a knowing sigh, “They asked for the wrong one.”
Joseph V. O’Donnell, the regional managing partner for Coopers & Lybrand, sent Bill a mailgram in Chicago on July 21 that read: “Coopers & Lybrand deeply regrets the circumstances which led to incorrectly awarding the Emmy for ‘Outstanding Drama Series Writing Team’ at July 17th’s Emmy awards presentation. We sincerely apologize for the clerical error that occurred and for any embarrassment it caused you and your associates.”
Bill spoke to the Los Angeles Times’ Lee Margulies about the incident. Telling his writers that they hadn’t won “was the most unpleasant job of my life,” Bill said. “From a night of triumph you just go to a moment of humiliation…far better that nothing had happened than that this happened.”
- From “The Young and Restless Life of William J. Bell”