SHEILA JAMES KUEHL (born February 9, 1941) is an American politician
and former child actor , currently the member of the Los Angeles
County Board of Supervisors for the 3rd District. In 1994, she became
the first openly gay
* 1 Early life and acting career
* 1.1 Radio
* 1.2 Television and College
* 1.2.1 _The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis_
* 2 Legal career
* 3 Politics
* 4 References * 5 External links
EARLY LIFE AND ACTING CAREER
Kuehl was born SHEILA ANN KUEHL in Tulsa, Oklahoma . Her father was an airplane construction worker at Douglas Aircraft. He was Catholic and her mother was Jewish. As a child actress she performed under the stage name Sheila James.
At age seven Kuehl's parents noticed that she loved to try to play piano and sing though she lacked any training. Kuehl's parents agreed to pay for lessons when a door-to-door salesmen came to their home selling Saturday classes for tap-dancing, ballet, and singing lessons at Meglin Studios. Her parents would accompany her by bus for tap-dancing lessons at the studio every Saturday. As the tap instructor's wife taught drama classes for an additional 50 cents, Kuehl's parents signed her up for those as well. The classes would have recitals on Monday nights to showcase what they had learned.
At one recital Kuehl played an assistant in a skit called "The Old Sleuth" where she sat under a table listening for clues. To indicate she was listening Kuehl made faces which caused the audience to laugh and encouraged her to make more faces resulting in more laughter. The skit was ruined but the drama teacher, Mrs. Meglin was impressed. Kuehl later recalled that Meglin told her mother "'The kid’s pretty funny. Can she read?' And my mother said, 'Oh, yeah, she can read, she skipped two grades, she’s really very good.' Mrs. Meglin said, 'There’s a radio series holding interviews…at an agent’s office on Sunset Boulevard. Would you be interested in taking her to the interview? All she has to do is read…' So we went for the interview and there were like 150 or 200 kids there and all you did was read. And I was called back…and eventually I got the part in what probably was the last family radio series before it went all music and news...'"
Having landed the role at the age of eight Kuehl (billed as Sheila
James) starred with radio and film veterans
TELEVISION AND COLLEGE
Due to her talent exhibited on radio, Kuehl's agent convinced her parents to bring her to auditions for a television role. Kuehl later recalled "The same 200 kids I think were there for the interview and I was called back and called back and called back and eventually I got that part. And beginning in 1950, I did that series for six years." Kuehl was signed to play Jackie, Stuart Erwin 's tomboy daughter, in the television series _ The Stu Erwin Show _ (also known as _Trouble with Father_) from 1950 to 1955.
After _The Stu Erwin Show_ ended Kuehl continued to work as an actress while going to school. Due to academic success Kuehl had been able to skip two grades and by sixteen was attending the University of California, Los Angeles. As her college studies continued she moved into a sorority house and began spending summers as a counsellor for a children's camp. At the age of eighteen while working at the camp Kuehl met a twenty-one year-old counsellor named Kathy and fell in love. Kuehl would later recall "It was just a funny attraction that neither of us would acknowledge. Then, one night she and I were sitting together at her place. She was rubbing my back and we just, like, went to bed. It was wonderful. But then we stayed up all night wondering if we were really sick." They concluded that they were "sick" but that nothing could be done. Kuehl later recalled "There was no movement then. There was nothing to read. I knew no lesbians. We just figured this was a rare thing and that we were two women who'd fallen in love and that we had to keep it a secret because nobody would approve. We didn't dare tell a soul." After that summer, with Kathy going to school in San Diego, the two exchanged passionate letters daily for a year.
_The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis_
During this time Kuehl began the acting in the role she is probably
best known for - her portrayal of teen-aged genius
Zelda Gilroy , the
wannabe girlfriend of the title character in the television series
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis _, which aired on
Kuehl later recalled how she landed the part "Well, when you're an actor with an agent, no matter how old you are, you go on interviews. I went on lots of interviews for lots of guest shots…and I had done two on _Love that Bob_ with Bob Cummings and Dwayne Hickman, who played his nephew, and the director Rod Amateau, so I had met all the people who eventually were going to be much of the team for _Dobie Gillis_. In 1959, I was at UCLA, and I went on an interview for _Dobie Gillis_ and I walked on the set and they all said 'Oh, hi, we know your work, you’re fine. Just go across the street and meet Max Schulman .' As it turned out, Max and I were the same height, and he was like buried behind the desk when I walked in. And he said, 'What’s the first line?' And I said, 'I love you.' And he said, 'You’re hired!'"
Signing a contract with _Dobie_ producer 20th Century Fox Television
required Kuehl, then 18 and in college studying theater, to change her
major to English, so that Shulman, also a successful author, could act
as her proctor on set in order to allow her to continue her studies.
Kuehl earned a bachelor's degree in English from the University of
Having signed a contract in 1960 to do twenty-one shows for the next season of _Dobie_, that same year Kuehl was elected an officer in both the University student government and in her sorority. Despite this success, things became difficult that summer when love-letters to Kathy that she had accidentally left at the sorority house were found by the cleaning staff and turned over to the alumnae council of the sorority. When she returned from summer vacation the council (while speaking in coded language and carefully avoiding the word "lesbian") confronted Kuehl with the letters demanding an explanation. Kuehl later recalled that at first she tried to deny it and failing that "I then just clammed up and took my sorority pin off and put it on the table and left. I cried all the way home." She was officially expelled from the sorority and despite assurance that no one would be told why she was aware that rumours were spreading. Some of the members of the sorority refused to speak to her afterwards and avoided her. Kuehl moved back in with her parents under the cover story that she was homesick but was still a member of the sorority which they knew she loved being a part of. Whenever her parents knew of a sorority meeting taking place, to prevent discovery, Kuehl would go to a coffee shop during that time and return with a story about the events of the meeting that she had not attended.
Despite Kathy moving to L.A. and their being able to see each other daily, the social sacrifices Kuehl was contemplating put a strain on their relationship. Kuehl later recalled "By then the whole idea of being queer was so overwhelming and scary. Not the sexuality, but the loss of everything. To be that way for good meant no family, no children, no career, nor normalcy, no parents. It seemed at that point that I should really get out of it. I told I didn't want to see her any longer." Kuehl had seen a man casually on and off during her relationship with Kathy and began working to make it more serious. They kissed but they did not have sex and they almost got engaged. Kuehl couldn't get Kathy off her mind and broke up with the man to resume the relationship with her. Kuehl's closeted relationship with Kathy continued till the dawn of the 1970s and had lasted a total of twelve years before they broke up.
In late 1961, Fox shot a television pilot starring Kuehl entitled
_Zelda_, for what it hoped would be one of television's first spin-off
After _Dobie Gillis_ ended its run, Kuehl (as "Sheila James")
Opportunities for acting work steadily diminished and Kuehl was
forced to sell her Malibu house. She later recalled this period
saying "I couldn't even get a commercial." Due to worries about her
career and being closeted she fell into a serious depression and
developed a drinking problem. She was able to move forward after
seeking help. She then moved in with her then girlfriend, Kathy, and
began working at the
Kuehl was able to make television guest appearances on _National Velvet _, _McHale\'s Navy _, _ The Donna Reed Show _, _The Beverly Hillbillies _, _ Petticoat Junction _, _The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet _, _ Marcus Welby, M.D. _ and _ The Ed Sullivan Show _ from 1963 to 1970. By the end of the decade, acting roles had dried up for her. Though Kuehl "can't state with certainty that she was blacklisted" from further acting jobs over her sexuality, she claims that afterwards, "with few exceptions, the phone stopped ringing." A pilot for a _Dobie Gillis_ spin-off , in which the character Zelda was the lead, was produced, but the president of CBS, Jim Aubrey , thought Kuehl was "too butch " to be a star for their network. Subsequently, the pilot was not promoted and did not sell, however Kuehl was not told about this immediately. Rather, she was informed by the director, Rod Amateau , when she arrived to shoot the following episodes. She was devastated by the news.
Kuehl's only acting roles beyond 1970 were in two _Dobie Gillis_ reunion projects: a 1977 sitcom pilot produced by James Komack , _Whatever Happened to Dobie Gillis?_, and a 1988 television movie sequel, _Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis_. In both productions, Dobie had married Zelda and the two were running the Gillis family grocery store and raising a teenage son named Georgie Gillis.
Reflecting on the lasting impact of her role as Zelda, Kuehl told an interviewer "First, there were no smart girls on television, period. All the girls were better looking than me, but dumb. I didn’t mean the actresses were dumb, but that was sort of what you had to be in those days. So, a smart girl, brash, did not know she was a loser, which was sort of the theme for all the characters on _Dobie Gillis_…you just keep doing what you are doing because you don’t know there's anything wrong with you. And the other thing, of course, 20 years later I started getting letters from young women saying 'You were such a role model for me,' and now that the women’s movement had started I could see why. An independent, smart girl, knew what she wanted, went after it, but not in a mean way. And always by the end of the show if you were doing anything dishonest against your friends, you would repent. Because friendship was always the most important thing."
After leaving the acting profession in the early 1970s, Kuehl became
an adviser to students in campus activist groups at her alma mater,
In 1975, at age 34, after being denied admission into UCLA, Kuehl was accepted at Harvard Law School . In her third year she was elected class marshal and president of the student council. She received her J.D. in 1978. During her final year, she chaired the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the first group of women to be admitted to the law school, and became the second woman to win Harvard's prestigious Ames Moot Court Competition , judged by a panel including Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall . Keuhl recalled that the Justice "strode over to me, clasped my hand in his two huge hands and said, 'Lady, I like your style.'" Kuehl was recognized in the ABA's Law Student Division magazine as one of the nation's top five law students.
It was while at Harvard that Kuehl came to grips with her sexuality, she later recalled "So it wasn’t until I went to law school in my thirties that I fell in love again with a woman after having dated lots of men in between, and I thought 'Oh, no, this is really who I am.' And by then in the mid-seventies, there was consciousness about being gay. My second partner was out…and I was still in the closet I thought, I wasn’t really in the closet at school. It’s just sort of like you creep out a little at a time. But there was no movement, no organization, no club at Harvard, and so when we came back and lived together, it only lasted a couple of years and she left. I was so broken-hearted but I had no one to talk to. I hadn’t told anyone I was even in a relationship. So I decided to come out to my sister and then my friends and very shortly thereafter my parents. And that was probably ’79, so I was 38. So I knew I was gay when I fell in love with a woman for the second time. It wasn’t an aberration for me…."
After law school, Kuehl became an associate at Richards, Watson & Gershon in Los Angeles, where her practice focused on municipal law. She later became an associate at Bersch Jehan Agrama and Dwora Fried; Patti Giggans and Ellen Ledley; Barrie Levy and Linda Garnets; and Avi Rose and Ron Strochlic. Assembly-member Mark Leno (who had recently introduced a bill to change the family code to allow marriage equality) also attended the ceremonies giving a blessing in English and Hebrew to the couples.
Also in 2004, Kuehl authored Senate Bill 1234, an omnibus act intended to protect Californians from hate crimes, which the bill defined as criminal acts committed in whole or in part because of the victims' actual or perceived disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or association with persons with any of those characteristics. The bill targeted crimes, not First Amendment-protected speech. It also protected undocumented immigrants from deportation due to reporting hate crimes, increased civil protections from discrimination, and provided for law enforcement training concerning crimes against homeless persons and law enforcement response to homelessness, bill was later enacted into law.
In 2006, Kuehl sponsored a bill to prohibit the adoption by any
school district in
Throughout her career as a legislator, Kuehl took a leadership role on health care policy. Her foremost objective was securing passage of legislation to establish a single-payer health care system in California. SB 840 passed both houses of the legislature in 2006, but was vetoed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger ; it was reintroduced in 2007 and again passed the state Senate, with a vote pending in the Assembly. SB 840 passed both houses of the California legislature in August 2008 and was, again, vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger.
On January 28, 2008, _ The New York Times _ reported that Kuehl planned to vote against a health care plan sponsored by Governor Schwarzenegger and supported by a majority of Democrats in the Assembly, while opposed by a majority of Republicans. Her opposition along with the opposition of Senator Leland Yee led the _Times_ to predict that California's widely touted healthcare bill – widely but inaccurately called "universal" coverage – would be effectively killed. However, by the time the bill came to the Senate Health Committee, chaired by Kuehl, all but one of the Democratic Senators on the Committee had grave doubts about the bill and, after an eleven-hour hearing on the bill and an intervening week to caucus, on January 28, 2008, one Democrat voted yes, three abstained and three (including Kuehl), along with all Republicans, voted in opposition.
During her time in the state Legislature Kuehl authored bills pertaining to domestic violence, child support services, family leave, and discrimination based on gender, disability and sexual orientation. Later when speaking to an interviewer she reflected "I was a women’s rights attorney and a law professor. My interest was primarily issues of equality on the basis of gender, whether it was workplace discrimination, protection from domestic violence and sexual assault, child care, custody issues for married women. That was my area of expertise, so we started with that. I had participated in writing virtually all of the domestic violence laws, and then brought bills to expand them once I was . I knew, that as the only gay person, it would fall to me to bring protective bills. And I chose the most difficult one first, because anything having to do with children is a flashpoint for the opposition. And so it was very difficult."
Kuehl served in the California Senate for two terms (eight years) the maximum allowed under term limits adopted in 1990.
In 2009, Kuehl became a member of the
Since 2010, Kuehl has hosted "Get Used To It", a national cable show
LOS ANGELES COUNTY SUPERVISOR
Since joining the LA County Board of Supervisors, she has championed efforts to reduce homelessness, raise the minimum wage, establish LA County’s first affordable housing trust, and develop measures that will bring long-term environmental sustainability to the region.
In the past Kuehl had a ten-year romantic relationship with Torie Osborn and while hurt at first over the break-up, she was over time able to gain perspective and became best friends with Osborn. Osborn went on to support Kuehl's run for Supervisor and (having previously served as a deputy mayor in L.A.) joined her staff as principal deputy for strategy and policy.
Los Angeles County limits its Supervisors to three consecutive four-year terms in accord with a 2002 measure. When running for the office she was asked if she missed acting and responded that the camaraderie in public service mirrored her favourite aspect of acting, and then stated "I suppose if I get to be a supervisor and then I’m termed out, I’ll be, you know, fairly elderly but still able to do things, and then I guess my ambition would be to be Betty White for a couple of years."
Reflecting on her political career Kuehl told an interviewer "I was very proud of the fact that I wasn’t too frightened to run for office as a gay person. people making anonymous phone calls in the middle of the night to tell you you’re a horrible person only in worse language than that, or imagine getting spat at. It’s the same thing people go through about coming out. But it turns out to be much better than you expect."
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _Interview with Sheila James Kuehl_ (Digital).
Archive of American Television . 2013.
* ^ _A_ _B_ "
* ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ _F_ _G_ _H_ _I_ _J_ _K_ _L_ _M_ _N_ _O_ "Sheila Kuhl Wins LA County Supervisor Seat". RainbowGray. * ^ _A_ _B_ _C_ _D_ _E_ _F_ _G_ _H_ _I_ _J_ _K_ _L_ _M_ _N_ _O_ _P_ _Q_ Michelangelo Signorile (1993). _Queer in America: Sex, the Media, and the Closets of Power_. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press. * ^ John Dunning (1998). _On the Air: The