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Biography

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Overview (2)

Date of Birth 9 February 1941Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
Height 4' 10" (1.47 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Babyboomers remember well the diminutive (4'10"), dark-haired comedienne Sheila James who raised a smile with her portrayals of tomboyish kid sisters and boy-crazy high schoolers on late 50s and early 60s TV. For a while she was a huge hit backed by her characters' plaintive, pony-tailed presences, strategies and sheer persistence to get what they wanted. In her best known show The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959), Sheila gave plain-Jane teenagers everywhere hope that they too could net the guy of their dreams.

She was born Sheila James Kuehl on February 9, 1941, in Tulsa Oklahoma and pursued acting as an adolescent. She started things off with quite a bang at age 10 with a five-season regular role as Stuart Erwin and June Collyer's tomboy daughter Jackie in The Stu Erwin Show (1950). She appeared in her first film (using the stage name of Sheila James) at age 12 with an unbilled role in Those Redheads from Seattle (1953) and the next year was glimpsed in the MGM classic musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954). In the meantime Sheila made appearances on such TV series as "Mayor of the Town," "My Little Margie," "Date with the Angels," "The Bob Cummings Show," "The Millionaire" and "National Velvet" before landing the role that her famous -- squinchy-nosed high schooler Zelda Gilroy in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959). As the obsessed student who only had eyes for the poetic, lovelorn title character (Dwayne Hickman), Zelda's confidence in hooking up with the uninterested Dobie never wavered, despite competition in the form of spoiled, dreamy blonde Tuesday Weld as Thalia Meninger. Sheila was an instant hit as Zelda, so much so that a 1962 pilot entitled "Zelda" was filmed as a possible spinoff. However, when Hollywood gossip spread that the 21-year-old Sheila was a lesbian, the powers-that-be decided to permanently shelve the project.

The actress began to see her surge of popularity, not to mention her ability to find acting jobs, diminish after this. Despite some comedy roles in "Petticoat Junction," "Ozzie and Harriet" and "The Donna Reed Show," she found Hollywood reticent to cast her. She did appear as Sally Ragsdale on a 1964 episode of Petticoat Junction (1963) in which she joined as one of the singing "Ladybugs" along with lovely Petticoat Junction girls Linda Henning, Jeannine Riley and Pat Woodell. The pretty foursome even took their act to "The Ed Sullivan Show" in which they appeared as a mop-haired female version of the Beatles and performed the Fab Four's hit song "I Saw Her Standing There" with Henning as drummer "Ringo Starr," Riley as guitar player "John Lennon," Woodell as "Paul McCartney" and James as guitar player "George Harrison". Sheila would appear in one more regular series, co-starring with Kathleen Nolan of "The Real McCoys" fame in the short-lived service comedy Broadside (1964), before seeing the writing on the wall.

After the show's quick demise, a practical Sheila decided to take a different direction in her life. She first found a job as a student campus adviser at UCLA which led to her appointment as the college's associate dean. At age 34 (and back to using her real name Sheila Kuehl), she was admitted into Harvard Law School where she rose to the top of her class and was elected student council president. Thereafter, Sheila returned on a rare occasion to TV (guest appearances on "Love American Style," "Emergency!") and film (Bring Me the Head of Dobie Gillis (1988)), a sequel to the popular comedy show in which she and Dobie (Hickman) have married and have a child!

Sheila made bold moves into the political arena on feminist issues and went on to serve as the first openly gay member of the California State Assembly (6 years) and Senate (8 years). She later focused on community programs and policies as Director of the Public Policy Institute at Santa Monica College and played host of the West Hollywood cable show "Get Used To It", that dealt with gays and gay issues. She also worked in tandem with Planned Parenthood of California in helping to develop legislation. To this day, the former child actress continues to be a strong and vital force in Los Angeles politics.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Trivia (8)

Unsold pilot: Starred in a sitcom pilot for a series called "Zelda", based on her character from the hit TV series The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (1959). The project was dropped when rumors began to circulate that she was a lesbian. When she was passed over for a promotion in favor of a man with less experience she began to see major obstacles for women in the job market. She went back to school, received a law degree from the Harvard Law School and became an advocate for equal rights as an attorney specializing in feminist causes before being elected to the California State Assembly in 1994. [1962]
Completed two four-year terms in the California State Senate, winning her seat in 2000 and again in 2004 after serving for 6 years in the State Assembly where she was the first openly gay or lesbian person to be elected to the California Legislature. [2009]
She has filed a "Statement of Intention" to run for California Secretary of State in 2010. [January 2007]
Reelected to the California State Senate by a landslide victory [November 2004]
Termed out of the State Senate, she was appointed to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, overseeing California's recycling laws. [December 2008]
Elected to the California State Senate, November 2000, for a four-year term. [November 2000]
Ms. Kuehl is a member of the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors (for District 3).
Big sister of actress Jeri Lou James.

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