Sunday, March 8, 2020
In 1970 I was attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. I had been teaching speech and English for six years and decided to pursue a master's degree in communication. I was ready for a change from teaching. As part of my program, I accepted the opportunity to become an intern at the local CBS station, a former roller rink, that was located at the edge of downtown Chicago. Until I was nine months pregnant with our first child, every weekday I commuted on the "El" and walked several blocks to CBS.
After a semester of interning, I was hired by the producer of the local talk show to become a secretary in charge of communicating with the show's viewers and of rejecting in a nice manner those people or companies that my bosses (the producer and the talk show hostess) decided not to have as guests on the show. In addition I was asked to answer the phone and run errands (buying fish for the hostess at Burhop's Fish Store) and picking up the hostess's week of clothes to wear at Saks Fifth Avenue located nearby on Michigan Avenue.
The hostess of the show was a woman named Lee Philip Bell. When I went to work for her, she was already an institution in Chicago. She was married to an ex-advertising executive with whom she wrote soap operas; she was the mother of three children (whom I sometimes baby sat for); she was an able interviewer to every famous person who came to Chicago including Tennessee Williams, Bette Midler, jazz musician Ramsey Lewis, and film director Frank Capra; and she was also a strong advocate and participant in Chicago's community. In addition, during each half hour show, I was situated in the control room as the "assistant director" and watched my boss in action every day.
What a privilege to learn from such an amazing role model. Lee never lost her "cool." Rather every day was fun. She could chat just as easily with Nick, our stage manager as she could with A.C. Neilsen and Mahalia Jackson. Her interest in others included me. On my birthday we would celebrate at the Palmer House's famous Pump Room where we would sit at Table One.
Each day when her noon interview was complete, she would leave the building so she could perform her domestic duties, i.e. running two households and caring for her amazing children.
Here was a woman who did it all and it always seemed that she did it so easily. She could finesse any conflict or disagreement and never seem to mind whatever she was asked to do. She always wanted to know about you. I'll always remember when I invited my parents to visit me at the studio. My father would smile for years when he recalled meeting her. She was as always her charming self.
A few years ago I had a conversation with her. She was already in her late 80s and was a widow, but she remained as perky and positive as ever. Now living in LA she continued to work at the company her children were producing the two long-running soap operas, The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful. She told me she "liked to keep busy."
Lee Phillip Bell passed away last week at the age of 91, but her influence on me will be everlasting. Of all my mentors, she will always remain at the top of the list.