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Whenever I think of Bill Bell, I think of him in his navy blue blazer with his perfectly cropped hair, casting a radiant smile like one that you'd see on Santa Claus on Christmas morning.
He took a chance on me when he cast me on The Young and the Restless in 1975. He told me that I was fairly "green" as an actor, but that there wasn't a bad angle on me. I was replacing William Grey Espy in the role of Dr. William Foster Jr., aka Snapper. Espy had been very popular in the part, and I thought I was going to be fired when I couldn't get it together and get over my nerves.
I said to the stage manager the first day I walked onto the set, "Where's the director?" I had no idea there was even a control booth. It took me a couple of years to turn it all around. Eventually I did, thanks to Bill, who never gave up on me, and also to Jeanne Cooper, who plays Katherine Chancellor. She took me under her wing and gave me acting lessons.
Thanks to Bill, my experience on Y&R molded me from a terrified, insecure geeky guy to a confident, positive force in the soap-opera world. Being on Y&R also helped shape my work ethic. The most important thing I remember about Bill was that he believed in me. He was always positive about my growth as an actor.
I grew up in LaGrange, Illinois, not far from where Bill and his wife, Lee Phillip Bell, lived. Lee was an amazing presence in Chicago. She was the Oprah Winfrey of that era of television. I remember the first time I met Bill and Lee. They invited my parents and me to their home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and they were both so gracious. We all went out on Bill's boat and toured the lake, talked about the show, and had dinner. Bill was a positive guy with an amazing sense of class. His belief in me gave me the confidence to continue my acting.
Meeting Bill and Lee's children when they were very young was a wonderful experience. I still see Bill and Lee's daughter, Lauralee, at the gym. The last time I saw their son Brad, he was driving about 110 miles an hour down the Pacific Coast Highway in a charity race for the CHP (California Highway Patrol) 11-99 Foundation. I'd left Y&R years earlier, but I said to him, "I still want on the show!" He yelled back, "Anytime! The door is always open!"
I was on Y&R in 1980 when I called Bill and told him that producers wanted to cast me in Semi-Tough, a TV series on ABC with Markie Post that was based on the feature film from a few years earlier with Burt Reynolds and Jill Clayburgh. I told Bill that this was my dream and I really wanted to do it. I said I could do Y&R and the nighttime show at the same time. Bill said, "Yes, absolutely." He was the reason that I was able to do both shows. He and executive producer John Conboy could have exercised an option in my contract, but they didn't want to stand in my way.
We had the kind of relationship that's hard to come by in Hollywood.
Semi-Tough only ran for four episodes. I came back like a puppy dog with my tail between my legs, but Bill never made me feel like anything but a valued member of his Y&R family.
Being on Y&R was always a fun time. One of my best recollections was Snapper doing a very provocative demonstration of the Heimlich maneuver with his wife, Chris, played by the very attractive Trish Stewart. It seemed like Snapper and Chris were always in bed together. I used to say, "When the ratings are low, all the clothes go!" But the ratings never were low. Y&R was always at the top. I know it's remained on top of the world for thirty-nine years now, which is unbelievably amazing and a tribute to Bill Bell.
After I left Y&R, I landed the series Knight Rider. Then, I was cast on Baywatch and became executive producer in 1991. Critics said the show was about women in bikinis on the beach, but the real reason viewers came back each week was because of the relationship that my character, Mitch Buchannon, had with his son, Hobie, played by Jeremy Jackson. The relationship that Snapper had on Y&R with his son, Chuckie, whom he gave a kidney to, was a precursor of Mitch and Hobie.
I tried to put the same storytelling values that I learned from Bill into every Baywatch script. I made sure the stories had heart, humor, and action. On Baywatch, we had romance, not sex; action, not violence; and if anyone ever drowned, it happened off camera. I learned a lot about character development from being on Y&R and from Bill. I loved his tenacity and his fierce loyalty.
Bill invited me to host Y&R's twentieth anniversary party in March, 1993, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. I was honored. That was an amazing evening. Seeing Bill and Lee and their children and everyone from the show that night reminded me of my time at Y&R and the discipline I'd learned there. You can lose that when you go to primetime and surround yourself with enablers. You always need someone there to tell you the truth. Bill taught me that the truth was my friend. And he was always there to tell me the truth in a positive way.
Bill radiated a light that was so positive. I never saw him angry. Bill was a gentleman. He knew what he wanted, and he did everything with class.
It's an honor to be included in this biography.
David Hasselhoff played Dr. William "Snapper" Foster Jr. on The Young and the Restless from 197582 and again in 2010.