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Carol Bruce

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Carol Bruce is one of the more enduring musical (and acting) talents of the 20th century, with a career running from the early '40s and the original cast of Irving Berlin's Louisiana Purchase, through the movies of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, to the 1945 revival of Showboat and the 1951 reivival of Pal Joey in musical theater through the '80s and '90s, as well as a parallel career in comedy on television. Born Shirley Levy in New York in 1919, she was educated at Erasmus High School in Brooklyn and showed herself a talented singer while still in her teens. Bruce was barely into her twenties when she was cast in Louisiana Purchase, in a role that Irving Berlin reportedly wrote specifically for her. During the run of the play she was also working simultaneously on the Ben Bernie Radio Show, as well as making her nightclub debut in New York in the same period. Following the close of the play, she was signed to Universal Pictures where she co-starred in three movies; one of them, Keep 'Em Flying starring Abbott & Costello, offered Bruce the chance to introduce the pop standard "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You." Bruce returned to working in nightclubs, including a successful engagement at the Copacabana as well as performances on radio; she also sang with Red Norvo's band, on-stage and in broadcasts, and on various V-Disc releases made during World War II. In 1946, Bruce portrayed the role of Julie in a cast that included Jan Clayton and Kenneth Spencer in a revival of Jerome Kern's Showboat, which was well-received by critics and the public. Bruce not only won awards for her work, but saw her performance preserved on a cast album. Bruce subsequently appeared in revivals of One Touch of Venus, Bloomer Girl, Annie Get Your Gun, Lady in the Dark, and Pal Joey, which she later repeated in London (that engagement, in turn, led to her appearance at the London Palladium with Noel Coward). She became a regular guest on television variety and comedy programs during the '50s, did dramatic roles on Studio One and Armstrong Circle Theatre, and essayed the role of Mother God'damn in Shanghai Gesture. Bruce recorded for Columbia Records, RCA-Victor, and Tops Records, and made new musical recordings in the '90s when she was in her eighth decade. She is perhaps best known to pop culture and pop music aficionados, however, for her portrayal during the '80s of Mama Carlson, the sharp-tongued, wry-witted owner of the radio station on WKRP in Cincinnati. ~ Bruce Eder

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