Bruce, who was born Shirley Levy in Great Neck, New York, made her Broadway debut as Beatrice in the 1940 musical comedy Louisiana Purchase, and made the cover of Life magazine. She later starred on Broadway in the revue New Priorities of 1943, a 1946 revival of Show Boat (in which she played Julie), and the 1949 musical revue Along Fifth Avenue.
In the 1950s, Bruce played the role of Vera in Pal Joey at City Center and in London. In the 1960s, she appeared on Broadway in A Family Affair, Do I Hear a Waltz?, and Henry Sweet Henry.
Her films included This Woman Is Mine, Keep 'em Flying, American Gigolo, and Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. Bruce also appeared on such television series as Love of Life, General Hospital, and Knots Landing. She was best known for playing Mrs. Carlson on the hit sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati.