BIOGRAPHY

BRUCE BELLAND’s life story could be called “From Boy Singer to Renaissance Man” considering his more than six decades of diverse accomplishments in virtually every phase of the entertainment industry.
Early Life

Bruce Gerald Belland was born in Chicago, Illinois on October 22nd, 1936, the second son of Dr. Stanley G. Belland, a prominent Protestant Minister with a thriving congregation on the city’s Northwest side, and his talented young wife Hertha… a Gospel radio singer, voice coach and choir director.

Bruce sang his first solo in a morning worship service at age 4. The song was “God Bless America” for which he was rewarded with a standing ovation… and a stick of chewing gum.

The gum, and all the hugs, praise and adoration showered on him by the congregation, convinced him, right then and there, that he wanted to be a singer.
Not a fireman. Not a fighter pilot.

Not even shortstop for his beloved Chicago Cubs.

A singer.

His mind was made up at age 4 and he never wavered from pursuing that dream. 

Throughout his childhood, he spent long hours singing along with Bing Crosby on the radio or at the piano being coached by his supportive and always encouraging Mother “while supper burned on the stove.”

The possibility of a musical career drew closer when he was 10 and his family moved to Los Angeles, where his Father assumed the Ministry of the West Hollywood Community Church in a blue collar, working class community just blocks off the Sunset Strip and immediately adjacent to up-scale Beverly Hills.

During his adolescent years, Bruce developed his vocal skills by singing at countless funerals conducted by his Father.

As Bruce puts it: “Other Fathers took their son fishing or to a baseball game. Dad and I buried people.”

Still, he told himself, it was a kind of “performing” and would have to do… for now.

As a star-struck 15-year-old, he delivered newspapers to dozens of world-famous celebrities “across the tracks” in Beverly Hills… Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart, Gene Kelly, Jimmy Durante, Danny Kaye, Ira Gershwin, Danny Thomas, Harpo Marx, Zsa Zsa Gabor, George Burns and Rosalind Russell, which further fueled his fantasy of a show business career.
On his delivery route through the elite streets of Beverly Hills, he began to experience firsthand encounters with world-renowned celebrities, something he did his best to bring about at every opportunity.

One famous Oscar winner actually took the time to show him the correct way to fold and throw a newspaper.

Another beloved old radio star in his bathrobe and slippers, would chat with him when he came out to fetch his paper.

Then more show biz elements came into play at school.

He attended Emerson Jr. High in West L.A. where his classmates included future star Robert Redford, Doug McClure and newly honored Juvenile Oscar winner at the time, Bobby Driscoll, Hollywood’s biggest child star since Shirley Temple.

And excitement radiated from the chic, Sunset Strip night clubs mere blocks from his family’s modest parsonage. And as a teenager, he would sneak out of the house after his parents had gone to bed and charm his way backstage at the various showrooms along the Strip.

He soon became a “mascot” to the tech crews at each club and stood backstage night after night witnessing the performances of many of the great night club entertainers of the time.

Nat “King” Cole, Jimmy Durante, The Andrews Sisters, Tony Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Daniels, Judy Garland, Pearl Bailey, Danny Kaye and Martin & Lewis with Jerry’s madcap comedic style greatly influencing Bruce’s early onstage antics.

It would prove an invaluable education for what lay ahead.

He was now singing along with The Four Freshmen on the radio and becoming more and more enamored with voices blending in harmony. 

After sneaking backstage one night at Ciro’s and hearing his idols the Mills Brothers harmonize, his ambition soon focused on pursuing a recording career in a close harmony vocal group.

He was now also beginning to compose songs and poems of his own for various church functions.

In 1952, he enrolled at Hollywood High, something he had dreamed of since moving from Chicago as a ten-year-old.
A show biz fanatic, he was well aware of the school’s unique history. Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland and Lana Turner all attended there as did Bruce’s older brother Stanton, one of his earliest heroes.

Hollywood High School was destined to become the birthplace of a collaboration between four gifted and driven young men with a common goal… make a hit record and “become somebody.”

Many fellow students were already embarked on successful show business careers. One pretty blonde classmate left campus early each day to portray Gordon MacRae’s daughter in the film musical “Carousel” and a gymnast/dancer buddy of his took days off to film his scenes in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Future recording star, and member of the legendary Wrecking Crew studio band, Nino Tempo, a junior, would conduct sizzling jam sessions in the gym at lunchtime.

Other classmates like Mike Farrell and Sally Kellerman would later go on to stardom as would Linda Evans, Stephanie Powers, John Phillip Law, Sara Jessica Parker and Jon Ritter.

And then there were classmates David and Ricky Nelson whose parent’s seminal TV sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” was a new hit on ABC.
 
No one, not even Bruce the big dreamer, could foresee how his path would soon intersect with the Nelsons and further energize his young career.

Professional Life
It was at HHS in 1954 that Bruce convinced Glen Larson, a friend since grammar school, to co-found a vocal group and audition for that year’s student talent show, a hallowed school tradition attended by studio talent scouts and agents looking for promising young talent.

Bruce and Glen recruited two pals from the school choir for that first performance.

The group, featuring Bruce on Lead, sang a rousing version of the Crew Cuts hit “Sha Boom” and stole the show.
The reaction to their performance convinced Bruce and Glen they were on to something special and they now enlisted classmates - 6’4” bass and high school football star Ed Cobb and high tenor and former boy soprano in the famed Mitchell Boys Choir, Marv Ingram, to permanently fill the other two slots.
And so, The Four Preps were born.
Southern California in the early 50’s saw an explosion of social events and the fledgling foursome was soon in demand for all kinds of happenings from bar-b-ques to beach parties, hayrides to sock hops.

Acutely aware that four green teenagers needed musical guidance, Bruce convinced Hollywood High’s musical prodigy and aspiring classical pianist, Lincoln Mayorga, to become the groups’ accompanist, arranger, and conductor.
Lincoln signed on and that relationship would last for more than 13 years and earn Lincoln the affectionate sobriquet “the fifth Prep.”

(Mayorga would eventually go on to a distinguished concert and studio career.)

The 5 strivers began performing throughout Southern California, rehearsing late at night after their day jobs and polishing their Act while Bruce tirelessly prowled the office buildings all over Hollywood trying in vain to elicit interest in their audition tape at a record label.

Then, what Bruce calls “the  Belland luck” came into play when Melville Shauer, a prominent personal manager (Les Paul & Mary Ford) whom he’d met strictly by chance, submitted their tape to a legendary producer at Capitol Records, Voyle Gilmore, (Sinatra, Judy Garland, Four Freshmen)

Gilmore, keenly aware of the rapidly expanding market of young record buyers, liked what he heard and, in 1956, signed the four teenagers to a long-term Capitol contract making them the youngest group ever to record for a major record label at the time.

Daily VARIETY quickly dubbed them “Capitol’s jolly juveniles” and a local columnist lauded them as “four clean cut, milk-fed kids from Hollywood High who are all the rage of late”.

“Dreamy Eyes”, their very first release in late 1956, briefly made it on to the Billboard charts at #56, but soon faded and was followed by 6 more single releases that garnered enormous airplay – the nation’s disc jockeys had “adopted” the Preps - but not many sales.

Then in early 1958, the Preps struck recording gold and became what NBC news would call “a household name.”

The song that spread their fame around the world was their first million-seller, “26 Miles Across the Sea (Santa Catalina)”, which was written by Bruce and Glen.

In the ensuing years, music historians have credited that landmark recording with introducing the world to what would become known as “the California sound.”

“26 Miles” would later be cited by Brian Wilson as a teenage favorite and his biography “The Nearest Faraway Place”  describes a Preps performance at Brian’s high school as “a witty, off-handed show that lent a charge of inspiration to the material Brian was developing.” 

That landmark recording also inspired Jimmy Buffett to name a chapter after it in his best-selling autobiography; “A Pirate Looks at Fifty”, and write
“Twenty-six Miles. It was California, the ocean, girls – hell, it was everything I wanted to be or do.”

Music lovers around the world agreed, and soon, Catalina, “the Island of Romance”, was welcoming a million visitors a year as NBC’s “Today Show” proclaimed, “26 Miles has put Catalina on the map.”

(Today, Bruce and “26 Miles” are immortalized in an exhibit in the main lobby of the new Catalina Island Museum in Avalon.)
With “26 Miles” at the top of the charts, and the kid with a dream from Chicago on top of the world, Bruce and his bandmates were anointed “Newcomer of the Year” in Cashbox and soon featured in a LIFE magazine cover story, on numerous Ed Sullivan and American Bandstand shows… and in an historic CBS TV Special with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Rosemary Clooney and Louie Armstrong.

Soon they were touring with George Burns, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Bob Hope, and performing at the world famous Cocoanut Grove, the celebrated night club they had attended as high school prom goers a scant 20 months earlier.

“26 Miles”, which has now sold over 10 million copies, was followed by a dozen Preps’ singles on the Billboard charts, including additional million sellers “Big Man”, “Down by the Station” and “Lazy Summer Night” as well as “Gidget”, “Calcutta”, “Got a Girl”, “Cinderella” and  “More Money for You and Me” and “the Big Draft” which featured their spot on satirical impressions of other groups all of them co-written by Bruce and Glen. 

America’s first “boy band” was soon considered the quintessential West Coast Pop group, embodying the casual Southern California lifestyle and carefree beach culture so alluring to an increasing number of Americans in the late 50’s.

Fan mags featured photo layouts of the four of them on the beach or in their hot rod convertibles at a Hollywood drive in with their “dates”… actually attractive teenage models.

They were living “American Graffiti” every day.

The cover of their first studio album “The Things We Did Last Summer” features the four on them in bathing suits flirting with a couple of models on the sands of the beach where they’d grown up body surfing.

Bruce had become friends with David and Ricky Nelson at H H S and it wasn’t long before he and the Preps were invited to become regulars on “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” playing Rick’s fraternity brothers and backup singers.

By the end of their first season on the show, the Preps and Ricky had developed a musical simpatico, singing for hours on the set - between scenes.

Ricky’s first public performance happened unexpectedly when he tagged along to watch a Preps show at a local high school and they literally dragged him out on stage for his debut performance before a live audience.

The girls in the crowd mobbed them after the show and they barely escaped intact.

So, it was natural that the Preps would accompany Ricky on his first national tour.
Nelson, for whom LIFE magazine had just coined the phrase “Teen Idol” in its cover story – now embarked on that first record-breaking tour, playing to sold-out arenas packed with 25,000 boisterous, semi-hysterical teenage girls.

The guys were “attacked” after every show by excited fans grabbing at them and their clothing and Rick and the guys experienced more than one narrow escape from overzealous souvenir hunters.

Bodyguards were soon deployed.
It was the riotous new world of a “Teen Idol” and would yield Bruce some of his richest, most colorful memories. 

The Preps returned from that history-making tour with Nelson to headline during prom season at the famous Sunset Strip night club, The Crescendo, with rising stand up star Mort Sahl.

They played to sold-out shows for the entire two-week engagement. The audience was a unique mixture of Type A movie stars and excited prom-goers.

And it was all happening a few short blocks from the church parsonage where he’d grown up.

The Preps were featured on “Ozzie and Harriet” for a second season, but soon their demanding tour and recording schedule made it impossible to continue as cast regulars.

However, a persuasive Ozzie Nelson convinced Bruce to remain on the show as a solo actor, which he did for several more seasons squeezing it in between Preps engagements as often as possible. 

It was a hectic regimen but his multiple seasons as a cast regular would spawn a close, life-long friendship with the Nelson family and provide him with some of his most memorable experiences.

During the next three seasons on the show, Bruce would: arm wrestle with Mr. Peepers, spend the night in jail with Ricky, do a bedroom scene with Mamie Van Doren, dance the Charleston with Harriet Nelson and even perform a ballet number in long ringlet blonde curls and full ballerina drag… a role he considers his “crowning achievement as an actress.”

Meanwhile “Big Man”, the follow up to “26” was racing up the charts and would outsell “26 Miles” in both America and the U.K.

In the Fall of 1958, the Preps Co-starred in the first Dick Clark-endorsed surfer film “Gidget” with Sandra Dee, James Darren and Oscar winner Cliff Robertson.

That appearance, featuring the Preps’ rollicking beach party number on the sands of Malibu, further enhanced their image as the definitive Southern California Pop group.

Despite their string of hit singles, a successful album release had eluded them until their producer Voyle Gilmore, who was an avid fan of the Preps stage act, decided that a LIVE recording of their concert show might turn the trick.

That inspired decision resulted in a series of 3 consecutive LIVE In Concert albums in their “On Campus Series”, high lighting their polished harmony, irreverent, often highly political, comedy and satirical imitations of other popular singing groups of the era like Dion and the Belmonts, The Platters and the Kingston Trio. That album track became a hit single called “More Money for you and Me.”

Those LIVE concert recordings soon elevated them into one of America’s top college concert attraction for three consecutive years in the mid 60’s, and saw them flying in their private plane to 120 campuses a year for nearly half a decade… including a milestone performance at Syracuse University with rising new comedian Woody Allen.

By now, each Prep was also enjoying his own success in other aspects of the industry and, after 13 high flying years headlining at hundreds of colleges, in Vegas and top nightclub and concert venues across North America… and enjoying successful sold out tours of Europe and Asia, they amicably disbanded in 1969 to pursue their individual careers.

(The Four Preps would be inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2007.)

Ed Cobb would go on to become one of music’s most successful song writers (“Tainted Love”) and record producers, working with Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and Steely Dan.

Glen Larson would become one of TV’s most prolific producers, creating such shows as “Battle Star Galactica”, “Knight Rider”, and “Magnum P.I” and Marv Ingram became a successful commodities broker. 

With the original Preps disbanded, Bruce mow joined forces with Diamond Dave Somerville, original lead singer of the Diamonds - who had replaced Cobb during the Preps final tour- to form Belland and Somerville, a comedy/folk duo that debuted on “The Tonight Show” and then guested on 33 network programs in their first six months as a team.

CBS signed them as regulars on the Tim Conway Comedy Hour which led to concert performances with Henry Mancini, Johnny Mathis, Leonard Nimoy, Dennis Weaver, Glen Campbell, Della Reese, and Brazil ’66.

Andy Williams grabbed them for his record label Barnaby and Warner Brothers Music signed them to a songwriting contract.

It was a fortuitous move for Warner’s, since during that time, Bruce and David wrote “The Troublemaker”, a provocative protest song that would become a #1 country hit for Willie Nelson, the title song of his double platinum album and the subject of a cover story in Rolling Stone.

(available on YouTube—click here)

(Nelson has since released 3 different versions of the song.)

In addition to performing and writing with Somerville during that time, Bruce became heavily involved in freelance advertising, creating, producing and often directing radio, TV and print campaigns for such clients as Volkswagen, United Airlines, Ford, A & W Root Beer, McDonald’s, Chevrolet and two of his most memorable accounts, Forest Lawn Cemetery and Bandini Fertilizer.

In the early 70’s, while he was directing a series of Chevrolet commercials at NBC studios in Burbank, network brass offered him a position as a Senior programming executive.

He accepted, was promoted in 10 short months, and had begun climbing the corporate ladder when TV impresario Ralph Edwards lured him away to become Vice President of Ralph Edwards Productions, one of Hollywood’s oldest and most respected production companies.

In the first of his 5 years at REP, Bruce quadrupled the number of shows the company had on the air.

Honored with multiple Emmy nominations for his work on such shows as: “Name That Tune” (on which he discovered Kathie Lee Gifford), ”Dinah’s Place”, “Truth or Consequences”, “Hollywood Squares”,  “Cross Wits“, “Days of Our Lives”, “The Mickey Mouse Club” and a show he was heavily involved in developing for the network…“Wheel of Fortune”, he ultimately became responsible for over 1,200 hours of television entertainment.

In that capacity, he worked with empire builders like Norman Lear, Dick Clark, Chuck Barris, Hugh Hefner, Merv Griffin, Lawrence Welk and Grant Tinker.

But a great many people missed the Four Preps.

By the mid 70’s, Bruce was at the helm of Ralph Edwards Productions. Glen Larson was a top producer at Universal and Ed Cobb was a major record producer.

Nonetheless, an invitation from Ken Ehrlich, the producer of the up-coming First annual Billboard Music Awards Show, who had first seen the Preps perform as a college student at Ohio University, persuaded them to re-unite and make a one-time appearance on the special hosted by the Bee Gees.

With the fourth slot filled by Diamond Dave Somerville, the Preps did an updated version of their famous imitations number, ”More Money for You and Me” and capped it off with a spot on parody of the Bee Gees.
They received a rousing reception, then returned to their individual careers.
(available on YouTube—click here)

Bruce’s tenure at REP ended in the late 70’s when he resigned to develop other projects including an aspiring Broadway musical.

Once again, his versatility came into play and he began to perform as a voice over artist on the soundtrack of Disney’s classic “Jungle Book”, “Terms of Endearment”, and “Happy Days”, where some of the voices coming from the juke box in the malt shop are Bruce’s.

His musical creations have been performed by Sammy Davis Jr., Willie Nelson, Roy Clark, Kathy Young, T.G. Shephard, Herman’s Hermits, Lena Horne, Il Divo, The Vocal Majority, Julie Budd, The Checkmates, Donnie Osmond, Della Reese, Johnny Mathis, and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir which has sung his award-winning composition “So Many Voices Sing America’s Song” at two presidential inaugurations.
(available on YouTube—click here)

“Voices” was subsequently honored as the official anthem of the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, Bruce’s lyrics were read into the Congressional Record and he was awarded the Freedom Foundation’s Presidential Medal of the Arts.

His co-written composition, “What Would I Do without My Music” has become an international choral standard performed by more than 75 choirs around the world from South Carolina to Wales. 
 
(available on YouTube—click here)

In the late 90’s, “Ain’t That Just the Way”, a song he’d co-written for the NBC Mystery Theater, was recorded by Latricia McNeal, and sold over three million records reaching the Top Ten in 28 countries.

As a movie lyricist, he’s contributed to the score of the original “Gidget” movie, “National Lampoon’s Vacation”, “Weekend Warriors” and 5 Disney features including youth comedy favorite “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” which introduced new teen heartthrob Kurt Russell.

As a playwright, he’s written a half dozen theatrical productions performed in regional theaters around the country including one for the Long Beach Civic Light Opera starring Sammy Davis Jr.

(Two of those productions made it to Broadway but unfortunately were not successful.)

Over the course of his career, he’s written special material for George Burns, Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, Bob Newhart, Johnny Cash, Charro, Jim Stafford, Tim Conway, Andy Williams, Chevy Chase and Regis Philbin.

In 1989, at Dick Clark’s suggestion, Bruce and Ed Cobb re-formed the Preps after a 20-year hiatus with Diamond Dave Somerville and Jim Pike of the Letterman, who was replaced a short time later by Jim Yester original Lead singer of the Association.

Yester, Belland, Somerville, and Cobb recorded and toured as the Four Preps until the late 90’s when Cobb retired because of ill health.

At that point, Yester, Belland, and Somerville continued touring for a while as “Triple Gold – The Three Tenors of Pop” during which time Bruce penned the screenplay for “Weekend Warriors” a comedy feature film based on the Preps’ real life (mis)adventures in the military, starring Lloyd Bridges and Jack Lemmon’s son Chris, which has become an HBO staple.

During that period, Bruce also created and Hosted “Pop Americana” a weekly music/interview radio show for Gold Coast Broadcasting which blanketed the airwaves from Santa Barbara to Newport Beach.
Bruce’s guests included Steve Allen, Tommy Smothers, Kay Starr, Jerry Vale, Peter Tork, Helen Reddy and Nancy Sinatra.

In 2004, PBS approached Bruce about re-forming a one-time version of the Four Preps for “Magic Moments”  their historic musical special saluting the legendary hit makers of the 50’s, hosted by Pat Boone and the McGuire Sisters

Bruce coaxed lifelong buddy and original Prep Glen Larson into dusting off his tuxedo and joining him, Jim Yester and David Somerville for that singular performance.

That program has gone on to become one of Public Broadcasting’s most successful fund raisers and has been enjoyed by over 100 million viewers.

That appearance resulted in a groundswell of demand for a Preps tour and since 2007 Bruce, as the last remaining original member, has averaged 15-20 concerts a year with his current lineup of personnel… all seasoned veterans of other celebrated groups.

In recent years, Bruce has also performed in numerous concerts with his lifelong colleague and collaborator “fifth Prep” Lincoln Mayorga who has become a renowned classical pianist and a leading interpreter of Gershwin in concert with orchestras like the Moscow Philharmonic.

It’s an evening of songs and stories that’s entitled “2 History Making Hit Makers 2” and is met with enthusiasm all over the country.
(available on YouTube—click here)

In addition to his work being cited in the Congressional Record, and being a recipient of The Freedom Foundation’s Presidential Medal of the Arts, he’s earned numerous ASCAP and BMI Citations of Achievement as well as the “Distinguished Guardsmen Award” from the Department of the Air Force for the Preps’ “outstanding service in promoting Air Force recruitment” during their tenure in the Air National Guard.

(It was during that service, that Bruce broke the sound barrier in an F-104 Super Saber and survived a fiery landing.)

Bruce now also enjoys Public Speaking for such organizations as MENSA, The International Society of Association Executives, and the National Speakers Association.

Yep. He’s Still as busy as ever at age 83.

Case in point, as a pro bono favor for a colleague, he recently created a series of instructional songs to accompany a booklet teaching English to immigrant children, calling it his “most rewarding assignment ever!”

Personal Life

Bruce is married to Simone Alexander, a successful fashion designer who is now on the faculty of Fashion Institute of Design in Los Angeles.

In the late 80’s, his older daughter Tracey founded the London-based Pop band “Voice of the Beehive” which she fronted with her younger sister Melissa and which enjoyed considerable international record success through the mid 90’s. (see YouTube)

When at home in Woodland Hills, California, Bruce is currently at work on his first book, “ICONS, IDOLS, and IDIOTS—My Adventures with the greats of Show Business… from Ozzie and Harriet to Elvis… Sinatra to the Beatles… Bob Hope to the Beach Boys” which is slated for publication in 2021.

“From Boy Wonder to Renaissance Man” pretty much sums it up... for now.

© 2020 bruce belland