Ted Bell, Creative Adman Turned Author of Thrillers, Dies at 76
Ted Bell, a former award-winning advertising copywriter and creative director who abandoned Madison Avenue in his early 50s to recast himself as a best-selling novelist by writing and marketing his Alex Hawke spy thrillers, died on Jan. 20 in Hartford, Conn. He was 76.
The cause was an intracerebral hemorrhage, a type of stroke, said Evelyn Lorentzen Bell, a former wife.
Mr. Bell evolved from a successful advertising executive seductively pitching products like Heinz ketchup, Miller Lite beer and Marlboro cigarettes to an author of fever-pitch thrillers for readers enraptured by the exploits of Hawke, a British billionaire secret agent.
After the Young & Rubicam advertising agency, the world’s largest at the time, lured Mr. Bell from Leo Burnett U.S.A. to become its vice chairman and worldwide creative director in New York in 1993, he was asked to describe his creative philosophy. His answer, in the context of product promotion, might have applied correspondingly to his later career as an author.
The theme should be “fresh and fun and exciting” and “tell a real strong story,” Mr. Bell told The New York Times.
“The only reason we’re in this business,” he said, “is to sell.”
Theodore Augustus Bell III was born on July 3, 1946, in Tampa, Fla. His father was an investment firm executive. His mother was Mary Trice (Howell) Bell. The couple divorced when he was young, and he lived with his father and stepmother, Sally Bell.
Ted was an avid reader who, by the time he was a teenager, idolized Ian Fleming, devouring a dozen of the author’s James Bond books.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in English in 1969 from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., Mr. Bell worked briefly as a copywriter at Wilson, Haight, Welsh Advertising in Hartford and at Tinker, Dodge & Delano in New York.
“Banking was in his blood, but not in his heart, coming from three generations of bankers,” Ms. Bell said in an email. “In his heart, he always wanted to be a writer. After college graduation, he decided advertising would be a creative profession where he would be able to write.”
In 1971, at age 25, Mr. Bell sold a screenplay called “Screamathon” to the producers Joel B. Michaels and Garth Drabinsky.
The following year, he was recruited by the Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency, where he became vice president and creative director. He joined Leo Burnett U.S.A. in Chicago in 1982 as a creative director and was named president and chief creative officer in 1986, at age 40.
After joining Young & Rubicam, he and his collaborators won seven Clio advertising awards, three Cannes Gold Lions awards in creativity and the Cannes Lions Grand Prix award.
He retired in 2000 and published his first novel, “Hawke,” in 2003.
In 2011, Mr. Bell, who lived in Greenwich, Conn., was named a visiting scholar at Cambridge University’s department of political science and international studies and a writer in residence at Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge.
His marriage in 1978 to Evelyn Byrd Lorentzen, a photographer, ended in divorce, as did his subsequent marriages to Page Lee Hufty, an artist, and Lucinda Watson, an author. He is survived by a daughter from his first marriage, Evelyn Byrd Fay, an actress and model known as Byrdie Bell; and his sister, Sally Bell Powell.
At least eight of Mr. Bell’s 14 novels were logged on the The New York Times best seller lists, including his young adult fiction featuring the time-traveling hero Nick McIver.
His “Nick of Time” (2000) was a World War II novel; it was followed by the “The Time Pirate” (2010), which moves in time from the German assault on Britain’s Channel Islands in World War II to the Battle of Yorktown during the American Revolution.
Among the Alex Hawke novels, “Tsar” (2008) fictionalized the resurgence of the K.G.B. in Russia; “Warlord” (2010) concerned a vendetta against the British royal family; and “Overkill” (2018) featured Vladimir Putin in a plot to kidnap Hawke’s son, Alexei. Mr. Bell published his 12th and last Hawke novel, “Sea Hawke,” in 2021.
Reviewing “Patriot,” another Alex Hawke novel, in The Times Book Review in 2015, the novelist Benjamin Percy wrote that one of its most compelling scenes delivered “a rough music to the prose and a strong sense of character to the novel,” which he described in a way that fulfilled Mr. Bell’s boyhood ambition.
“This novel is a lot of fun,” Mr. Percy concluded, “an Ian Fleming-esque romp of a spy thriller.”
But the reviewer suggested that Mr. Bell may have been guilty of overkill in portraying his hero as omniscient. Invoking Mr. Bell’s former career as an ad man, Mr. Percy quoted Mr. Bell’s ode to the book’s protagonist and concluded: “Thesesections feel like a sales pitch more than a consciousness: I really, really, really want you to buy into Alex Hawke as the new James Bond.”