A sultry brunette with almond-shaped eyes and long, tapered eyebrows, Ms. Bruce made her Broadway debut in Irving Berlin's 1940 musical Louisiana Purchase, in which she got to introduce the title tune. Legend has it that the song that was written for her by Berlin. The show landed her on the cover of the Sept. 9, 1940, cover of Life Magazine. This led to a role in The New Priorities of 1943.
In 1946, she was Julie in the first Broadway revival of the musical Show Boat. Three years later, she was in the Gordon Jenkins revue Along Fifth Avenue alongside co-stars Nancy Walker, Jackie Gleason and George S. Irving. Throughout this time, she maintained a parallel career as a singer, appearing at major nightclubs and with Red Norvo's band. She sang at President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Birthday Ball in January 1942.
In the 1950s, she played Vera in a production of Pal Joey at City Center. She also recorded the album "Thrill With the Fabulous Carol Bruce." In the 1960s, she appeared in A Family Affair, Stephen Sondheim's short-lived Do I Hear a Waltz?, as Signora Fiora, and the Bob Merrill musical Henry, Sweet Henry. She also acted frequently in summer stock and on regional stages.
The role of Mama Carlson was played by Sylvia Sidney in the pilot of "WKRP," but Ms. Bruce essayed the role thereafter. Scenes involving the haughty grand dame typically involved her nervous, weak-kneed son Arthur pleading for more money for the station, with serene, sarcastic butler Hirsch (Ian Wolfe) acting as a comic foil to some of Mama Carlson's more lofty comments. (A typical exchange — Mama Carlson: "Hirsch, where have you been?!" Hirsch: "Mardi Gras, Madame.")
Ms. Bruce was born Shirley Levy in Great Neck, NY, to Harry and Beatrice Levy, and graduated from Erasmus High School in Brooklyn. On July 12, 1951, she was involved in a serious auto accident in Pennsylvania when she collided with a truck. The truck driver died and Ms. Bruce was charged with involuntary manslaughter. She married Milton Nathonson in 1945. The marriage ended in 1963. She is survived by a daughter, who was given the same name as one of Ms. Bruce's best-known roles: Julie.