February 23, 2020
TITLE: “I Find True Love… in a Chevy showroom.”
Well, here we are in 2020… where in the hell did the 50’s go?!
I hope everyone’s doing well and surviving the winter.
I’m nearing the finish line on the book and recently put together a chapter I think you might enjoy.
I’m a car nut. I LOVE CARS. I’ve owned a couple of dozen in my life from my first when I was 16, a 1934 Ford coupe to an exotic Ferrari after the Preps took off.
Growing up in car-crazy Southern California, I honestly thought getting a car when you turned 16 was a right guaranteed by the California constitution.
So that may help you understand why the following story is so nostalgic to me.
In 1958, we’re booked to play the Michigan State Fair with Ernie Ford and check-in at our hotel in downtown Detroit for the two-week stand.
On the second day, the concierge calls my room and tells me he’s holding an airmail, special delivery letter addressed to me. (Remember “Airmail
Would I like it brought to my room?
I tell him “of course” and in a minute, a bellman knocks on my door and hands me the envelope which has a Capitol Records return address.
It’s my very first royalty check.
I tear open the envelope and pull out a check made out to “Bruce G. Belland” for $4,011.42
I am gobsmacked.
It’s the most money I’ve ever been in the same room with. I sit down on the bed and stare at it… totally amazed at my good luck, just the way I was when I sang my first solo in church at age 4 and got rewarded with that stick of chewing gum.
That afternoon, I take a jog down the boulevard and come across a Chevrolet agency.
And that’s when I see it for the first time, sparkling like a giant, smoke-gray diamond in the middle of the showroom floor… a brand new 1958 Corvette.
It’s charcoal gray with a silver side panel inset and tangerine leather upholstery.
I approach it in awe and check out the sticker price… $3,664.11—it’s a number emblazoned in my brain forever—and I immediately rationalize that it’s an omen because both my royalty check and
the car’s price tag contain the number “11.”
What happens next is one of those “boy, if I ever write a book” episodes that still gives me a kick.
I race back to my room and grab Capitol’s check.
Five minutes later I’m back in the showroom, sweaty and out of breath and relieved to see that no one has bought this baby while I was gone.
So here I stand, drooling with an out of town check in my hand.
The salesman comes over and I lay out my situation with plenty of emphasis on Ernie Ford and the Four Preps at the state fair.
He warms up a little and asks how he can help.
I explain about the check and the next thing I know, I’m in the sales manager’s office along with their smug ass accountant… a tall, waste of skin named Mr. Lipson who looks embalmed.
He’s the kind of charmer who lights up a room when he leaves.
And the minute we make eye contact, I can tell he’s already sized me up as a guy working a check scam.
And my appearance doesn’t help.
I’m in jogging shorts, a tank top, and sneakers.
And oh yeah… I look about 14.
I fill them in, and the Suspicious bean counter announces that he’ll “handle it.”
He grabs the check and heads up the hall to his office. I hustle after him… he’s got my damn check!
He sits down in his cubicle and dials the Capitol phone number on the check.
Lipson really seems convinced he’s about to call my bluff and thwart a major crime.
I’m only hearing his end of the conversation, but it’s easy to re-construct the long-distance exchange.
The Capitol Tower operator answers.
“Capitol Records. How may I direct your call?”
Mr. L. asks for “the accounting department.”
“May I ask what this is regarding?”
“Metropolitan Chevy agency in Detroit. Young man… out of town check from your company—”
I throw him a smile. Forget it. He’s now Elliot Ness.
“One moment please, I’ll connect you.”
“Metro Chevy agency in Detroit. Young man… out of town check from your company.”
“That will need to be handled by Business Affairs. One moment, please. I’ll transfer your call.”
“Operator, this is Royalty Accounting. Please transfer this call to Business Affairs.”
“Hello. Business affairs. How may I help you?”
“Detroit… Chevy… young man out of town.”
“May I ask who’s calling?”
It’s not going well for the creep.
“Arnold Lipson, head accountant—Detroit Chevy agency…”
“One Moment Please...”
He holds on and refuses to make eye contact with me.
“Hello, Mr. Lipson, this is Jay Rosen, head of business affairs. May I ask what this is regarding?”
“Chevy agency Detroit… check… young man...”
Finally, from Jay “Is Mr. Belland there?”
“Yes. He’s right here.”
He jabs the phone at me. I grab it.
“Bruce, hey it’s Jay Rosen. What the hell are you up to?”
“Chevy agency Detroit… luscious Corvette… out of town check... (etc.)”
“O.K. Put Lipson back on.”
Lipson gets back on the line and starts to beam… thinking he’s actually nailed what the press will call “the Preppy con-man.”
Rosen asks him to hold for a few moments… he’ll be back on the line shortly.
Now Lipson wears as close to a smile as a sourpuss can get.
We hold in stony silence for about 3 tense minutes until Jay’s secretary gets back on the line.
I pick up the extension as Lipson answers.
A businesslike female voice says, “One moment, for Mr. Rosen.”
“O.K., Mr. Lipson. I’ve spoken with Ted Randolph, the President of your bank next door. Turns out he’s an old business school classmate of mine.
He’s waiting in his office to cash the check for our young friend Mr. Belland… who, believe me, has earned
it. Please take good care of him. He’s a great asset to Capitol Records.
If you need anything further… I’m sorry… your name again?”
(Nice move from Jay who can tell a jerk two thousand miles away.)
“Uh… Lipson. Arnold Lipson. Th- thank you.”
Now that Jay has assured Mr. L. the check isn’t rubber, we say goodbye and hurry over to the bank where CEO Randolph handles the paperwork himself.
He asks me to sign a Preps album his wife has rushed to the bank and pose with him for a picture, then proceeds to count out over four grand in 100 dollar bills…40 of ‘em.
Beats the hell out of Zsa Zsa’s one dollar tip!
I thank him, pose with some of the tellers and rush back to the agency with Lipson, who now wants to have my baby… metaphorically of course.
I stand in the middle of the glossy showroom floor and count out 37 crisp Ben Franklins.
That memory will never get old.
At home, the car I’m driving at the time sits in our back yard… a 1949 Mercury convertible.
And now this… certain “firsts” are fun to remember… first date… first kiss… first—well you get the point.
But to a car nut, buying his first NEW car is always a great event… and buying it outright for cash
?!—are you kidding?!
I get change for the balance—gas money to L.A.—and stand there staring at my new treasure feeling sheer joy at what’s happening.
In a week I’ll jump into this little honey of a roadster and once again drive west to L.A. on the same route #66 our wheezing old ’36 Ford drove when we left Chicago a short decade ago to head to West Hollywood.
At this time, the 1958 Corvette is still a novelty all through the Midwest, and each time I stop to eat at a diner, I come out to a crowd of excited people checking it out and posing for pictures in front of it.
Racing through the tabletop flatlands of Kansas with the windows open and Sinatra blasting away on the radio, I feel as if I’m going to live forever.
And I earned it SINGING… something I’d do for free!
I reach L.A. and before I even head home, I drop my road dirty ‘Vette off at the local Chevy dealership on Sunset to be spit and polished and then get a courtesy ride to the parsonage.
To cap it all off, when I get home, I call Mel who tells me that for the up-coming Prom season, the Preps will be headlining at the red hot Club Crescendo on the strip with rising new stand up Mort Sahl.
Life just keeps getting better.
As I said… I love cars. And I really believe they have feelings. And I think it’s terrific that some women I know actually love their cars so much they give them names
… “Coco,” “Harlow” (which is platinum white of course) and my favorite “Bacall.”
When I bring my new wheels home the next day, my Dad—who on a preacher’s salary never
bought a new car in his life—is mesmerized.
What red-blooded male wouldn’t be turned on by this sleek little ride.
Clean, racy lines. An exotically sculpted fiberglass body.
Tangerine leather seats.
Dual headlights. Jet plane acceleration.
I take my Dad on a hair-raising spin around the neighborhood, then pull over and persuade him to drive us back to the house.
He slides behind the wheel, puts it in gear, and presses on the accelerator.
The 250 hp engine rockets the car forward like a scalded jackrabbit.
That’s it for him.
He pulls over to the curb, gets out and lurches over to the sidewalk. He turns back wide-eyed and sputters,
“That’s crazy! No
car should have that much power! Good grief Bruce, you’re going to kill
yourself in this thing!”
He shakes his head, “it’s a nice day. I think I’ll walk home.”
He was nearly right. I am full of youthful bluster and this car begins competition among the Preps for the hottest set of new wheels that will never end.
Glen buys a Jag and Ed gets an Aston Martin. I buy a Ferrari.
As usual, Marv goes contrarian and buys a Berkeley, a miniature, experimental microcar which Glen jokes is essentially, “a ‘cardboard’ body with a lawnmower engine.”
But it’s funny, even though I now think I’m driving in the fast lane in this car-obsessed town, there’s always some guy with more horsepower… and balls.
One afternoon, after a meeting at the tower, I’m in my ‘Vette roaring along up on Mulholland towards my new home in Encino.
My hot little car has a Positraction rear end and corners like it’s on rails, so I’m feeling pretty macho and start maneuvering the pretzel windy road at around 50 mph… wa-a-ay too fast.
In a minute, I hear a horn beep from some guy behind me in a British Racing green convertible… he’s practically driving up my tailpipe, and I’m now up near 60.
Then he honks one more time, pulls out around me and roars past like I’m standing still.
As he speeds away, he turns, honks again and gives me a thumbs up.
It’s Steve McQueen in a classic Jaguar XK140.
I slow down and drink it all in and can’t help but shake my head and laugh at the life I’m now living.
I’m twenty-two and I feel like it’s just going to keep getting better.
The chapter goes on to the poignant payoff when during our Crescendo engagement—which all kinds of stars came to (even Luella Parsons)—a limo in the club parking lot slips its handbrake, rolls back and crunched into my baby.
The limo, by the way, was dropping off Van Johnson and his wife.
It was heavily insured, and I got my ride back better than ever with a new sound system, custom carpeting, etc.
Well, if you aren’t particularly crazy about cars, I’ve just bored the hell out of you.
Next time, I’ll make it something juicy and scandalous. I promise.
All for now… back to the man cave.
I’m so glad you’re out there, so I can come up above ground now and then and get in touch.
Let me hear from you… I love it.
As always, take good care of yourself and each other,