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In Memoriam

Two score in San Francisco

Bruce Bellingham, renaissance man. Photo: Jane Richey

Please don’t be confused by the title of this article. It does not depict when two guys got lucky one night at the Balboa Cafe in Cow Hollow nor does it refer to Buster Posey doubling to push across two runners at home plate. No. It is about my brother, Bruce Bellingham, who spent over 40 years in San Francisco commentating on the city and its personalities through his years with KCBS radio, PBS, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner, the Marin Independent Journal, and, of course, his monthly columns for nearly 30 years in his beloved Marina Times. Bruce died last month at age 66.

Bruce was a musician, a writer, a filmmaker, a San Francisco gadfly. He began playing many instruments at an early age. Whereas, I was the athlete, he was the one immersed in the arts, describing in his book, Bellingham By the Bay, his athletic prowess as “hiking up skirts, wrestling with his conscience, and racing through money.”

He made films in high school, he managed the Bleecker Street Cinema in Greenwich Village, he attended the Maurice Kanbar School of Film at NYU, and Playboy Magazine wrote of him making “adult films” in San Francisco in 1972. He played clarinet, piano, guitar, and Ravi Shankar encouraged him even to play the sitar which, of course, he embraced. Bruce also graduated from the Music & Arts Institute of San Francisco with a degree in voice as an operatic tenor.

But, Bruce’s real passion, besides name-dropping, was writing. Even as early as 16 years old, for his high school newspaper in New Jersey, he crossed the Hudson to New York City for an interview with the late poet Alan Ginsberg in Ginsberg’s Greenwich Village flat. He challenged Strange de Jim for most mentions in his friend Pulitzer Prize-winning Herb Caen’s column. Bruce was honored by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for being a longtime reporter and columnist, for his service to the community, and for “enriching the neighborhood.”

Bruce’s mentors of the previous generation in journalism often combined newspaper column writing with alcohol — often glorifying both. Unfortunately, Bruce bought into that myth. Not only did he wrestle with his conscience, he wrestled with his demons.

Bruce’s ashes will be let go over the San Francisco Bay as he told me he wished. He also said, in his usual wit, “After that, have them change my book title Bellingham By the Bay to Bellingham In the Bay. That was Bruce. I loved that guy.

Bruce’s memorial service will be held Friday, July 20 at 4 p.m. at New Life Church of the Nazarene, 300 Ulloa St., San Francisco.

 

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