Bruce McDonald. Our last Vine Interview

During our fateful long drive to Parris Island 2 1/2 years ago, during which we decided to create the Vine, one of the things Jen looked forward to the most was being able to write about people here in town who have led very interesting lives, but who most people know little if anything about. People live their lives in Westminster not because they’re stuck here (like Lodi, CA, made infamous by Credence Clearwater Revival), but because they choose to live here.  Sure, there’s a degree of inertia on occasion, but Westminster is also a very special town, made so by the people and culture, the classic New England architecture, the rugged landscape, and the many opportunities for outdoor recreation. People have been visiting here for centuries to enjoy the lakes and mountains.

Over the course of the past few years we’ve not covered as many people as we intended to, but we started with George and Betsy Lane, a couple which has traveled the world with the Foreign Service, but came back to their roots in Westminster when they retired. For our last issue we decided to cover another interesting person in Westminster who has been on Jen’s list since the beginning.

Bruce McDonald is Senior VP of Sales and Sport Services at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area and Director of the Ski School. A lot of people know him from the ski area, but they aren’t aware of everything else he’s done in his professional life.

A Vine reader who saw this story upon being published sent us a message suggesting we change the title of this story to be The Most Interesting Man in Westminster.

So, last Saturday night we had Bruce and his delightful former wife Pat over for dinner and conversation. Naturally he spoke of his three lovely daughters and 4 grandchildren, one of whom is just two weeks old.

Bruce was born in Orchard Park, NY (10 miles south of Buffalo) on the shores of Lake Erie…. It has one of the more intemperate climates in North America, getting an inordinate amount of snow as the squalls blow in off Lake Erie. It’s here that Bruce decided “If I have to live with it, I’m going to enjoy it.” He learned to ski at Kissing Bridge, NY.

In order to make extra money during their early married years Bruce’s parents became vaudeville dancers. His father encouraged him to be a performer and learn an instrument. After bouts with a violin and a saxophone, the guitar won out. Bruce’s dad also was a mounted sheriff and Bruce became a trick rider, on horseback, for the Erie County Mounted Sheriff’s Department, while still in high school, learning to do stunts at full gallop, like standing up in the saddle, vaulting back and forth over the horse and the ‘death drag’, which involves hanging across the horse upside down, one foot hooked in a strap of a specially made saddle, pretending you are dead from a gunshot wound. This was no doubt a fun way to make some spending money while in high school, but a friend of his was seriously injured when a horse fell on him while performing the death drag trick. They disbanded the team after that accident.

The biggest thrill he had while trick riding was performing with many western acts. The ones he liked working with the most was Clayton Moore, The Lone Ranger, and  Jay Silverheels and his companion, Tonto. Bruce worked much of his summer break doing fair shows. Along the way he learned to do gun twirling and roping tricks.

Bruce moved into performing, specifically playing the guitar and singing at rodeos. This was right around the time when Rock and Roll was big, when stars like Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and Chuck Berry were popular, so that was the musical direction Bruce headed. His father advised him to go into country music because it would never go out of style and it would complement his riding skills, but that wasn’t the cultural trend at that time, so Rock and Roll it was. In retrospect, Bruce thinks his father was probably correct, but an adolescent in those days was more likely to fall in love with Rock and Roll.

Bruce’s first band was named the Rhythm Masters, and they didn’t become world famous by a long shot, but Bruce did become an accomplished enough guitar player to play lead guitar. Uncle Sam brought Bruce to Fort Devens after he had received the soldier of the cycle award, out of 2,000 men, at Fort Dix, NJ. One night while doing a so called gig for another serviceman, a fellow came up and asked if Bruce would try out for his band The Avengers. They liked what they heard. They created a new band and switched to a new sound, Soul Music.

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Soon the band changed their name to The Sole Survivors (Bruce is second from left in the photo above). The band toured up and down the east coast, and made many records. Though they never had a big hit song, they did get credit for a hit record another band with the same name sang called “Expressway to your Heart.” The Sole Survivors were an established, well-rehearsed show band so they were booked to do the road shows featuring Expressway.

Before his marriage, Bruce was in NYC with two band members, promoting their band and looking to see Joey D and the Starlighters at the famous Peppermint Lounge. Their big hit was “The Peppermint Twist”.

It was a Monday night, which most show people have off, when Bruce and his friends met some dancers at the lounge, one being a very funny, attractive and enjoyable blonde woman. The next day was the huge east coast black out. Bruce remembered the address of his new friend so he and friends went to find her even though all the news people warned people to stay out of NYC. They apparently had a very memorable time together, as when Goldie Hawn wrote her autobiography called A Lotus Grows in the Mud, she mentioned the time she spent with him. At that time she’d not been a star, but just another struggling dancer/actress on the TV show Shindig. A year later she was cast for the very popular comedy show “Laugh In” with Rowan and Martin. The rest is history. We asked him if he’d ever contacted her, after finding out that he’d been mentioned in her autobiography. He said no, he didn’t want her to think he was just contacting her because of her stardom. “It didn’t feel right,” he said.

In 1969 when Bruce was attending guard duty in Leominster at the 26th Aviation Battalion he met Paul George who had just been appointed the new Ski School Director at Wachusett Mountain through the new leasee Ralph Crowley, Sr. Ralph had just secured a 5 year lease from the state in the hope of establishing a successful ski area on the only mountain in Central New England. Paul suggested that Bruce should give teaching a try, so in 1969, at the age of 27, Bruce came to Wachusett Mountain as a part time ski instructor.

Although Bruce no doubt has talent and drive, his foray into show business and eventually into modeling also had a lot to do with his appearance—he remains ruggedly handsome to this day. Regardless, it isn’t easy getting into show business, although just this week he received a residual check for the 1977 movie “Coma”, based on a novel by Robin Cooke. Tom Selleck had one of his first on-screen parts in Coma as well as Michael Douglas. According to his Screen Actors Guild contract Bruce is still being paid 34 years later……Bruce said his biggest mistake was turning down a job his agent told him was about a big fish eating people…..the movie was “Jaws”.

Besides being an executive at Wachusett Mountain Ski Area, Bruce’s other main career was being an actor/ model. His first modeling job was in tennis clothes in a high school show. Early in his modeling career he did some industrial work—photos and films about industrial products, such as for Norton Company. But fashion modeling was more lucrative and involved shooting on location, with travel to exotic places. Digital photography has changed the modeling market completely and his last few modeling jobs involved not as interesting studio shots where the ‘location’ would be digitally added after-the-fact.

At one point in the 80s Bruce was the top billed male model in the Boston area. Jen asked him to bring his portfolio and we prepared a slideshow of some of our favorites—it’s really interesting to see all the different roles he’s played.

He has worked in movies with many stars, Burt Reynolds in “Starting Over”, Tim Matheson on “House of God”, Joanne Woodward “See How She Runs” and many others. Bruce and another star Tea Leoni used to model together through Maggie Inc. in Boston.

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It came up in our conversation that when he was actively modeling, he was occasionally stopped on the streets of Boston by people asking “Aren’t you the Jordan Marsh man?” Looking through his portfolio, it’s no wonder.

Among the list of companies he modeled for were Jordan Marsh (appearing regularly in full-page Boston Sunday Globe ads, such as the photo above), Izod, Anderson Little, Hyatt Hotels, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Boston Magazine, Eastern Mountain Sports, New England Telephone, Bose, Dunham’s of Maine, London Fog and Wisotta Traders.

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In looking through the portfolio, we came across pictures of him with Scott Brown, our former U.S Senator, modeling in a Rich's flyer! Other times they modeled together Bruce played the role of the senior executive and Scott was the young upstart in several photo shoots. Bruce said he still reminds Scott of the seniority that he has. Scott and his girlfriend, now his wife Gail, who was also a model, came to many fall events at Wachusett Mountain. Modeling as businessmen is how he and Scott became friends. Bruce said he has a picture of Scott that he took, with his face painted with a huge star over one eye. Scott has the picture on his mantle.

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Bruce with former U.S. Senator Scott Brown (above and below)

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During this time period Bruce was juggling his modeling and acting career along with teaching skiing at Wachusett Mountain, which made for a very time consuming career mix. In 1982 he became a full time employee of the ski area, where he remains to this day.

One of the things that we are grateful to Bruce for is the brainstorming and research behind the GPS (Greatest Possible Savings) Century Passes. These passes, introduced in 1999 (hence the term Century Pass), allow skiers and snowboarders to buy a season pass and visit Wachusett Mountain all winter long at a very reasonable price. Prices for a season pass today are about 1/2 what they were ten years ago, one of the few things associated with skiing that’s dropped in price. Winters would be a lot longer around here if it wasn’t for skiing and snowboarding.

Despite all the changes, Bruce is in many ways unchanged. He still has the rugged good looks that made him a top male model in Boston, and he still retains a real enthusiasm for skiing, teaching skiing, and the ski area in general. He even gave Jen a little ski lesson and showed her how to ‘set an edge’ in our living room after dinner. He also still lives in Westminster, just minutes from the base of the Mountain. It’s a great place to live. We’re glad we spent the time getting to know Bruce and so many other people that we’ve written about in these past 2 ½ years.