SHELDON ANDELSON was an attorney, a higher education administrator and a political fundraiser born on this date.
He was the first openly gay University of California Regent. In describing Andelson, the Los Angeles Times called him a “Democratic Party heavyweight, once regarded as the nation’s most influential gay political figure.” Andelson was nominated to the Board of Regents by Governor Jerry Brown. He survived a nasty confirmation battle and served as a University of California Regent from 1980 to 1986. He was instrumental in the appointment of one of the first openly gay judges in California, Rand Schrader. At Andelson’s urging, California Governor Jerry Brown appointed Schrader to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1980. Andelson was also a fund-raiser for Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Walter F. Mondale.
“The story of Shelly Andelson is the story of America at its best,” U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in a 1984 speech presenting Andelson with a major honor from the American Jewish Committee.
Andelson was best known for his political activity–especially for the huge amounts of money he raised for liberal politicians at lavish parties and private dinners in his hillside Bel-Air home and West Hollywood restaurant. The villa-style house on Stradella Drive was built with entertaining in mind. One room was devoted to a bar with space to accommodate a half-dozen bartenders. Visitors included Kennedy, former Vice President Walter Mondale, former Sen. Gary Hart, Sen. Alan Cranston and Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.
Former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. was a special favorite, and it was Brown who unleashed a storm of controversy by appointing Andelson to the Board of Regents in 1981.
In gay circles, the image of the nation’s top Democrats sitting down to dinner unashamed with Andelson lifted him to the status of treasured role model. “I don’t know any other gay person who was moving in those circles,” recalled a friend, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rand Schrader.
A USC-trained lawyer and fraternity man, Andelson was reluctantly drawn into admitting to the world that he was gay. At the start of his career, Andelson dared not dream that he could even become respectable, let alone come to know most of the country’s top Democrats as friends and receive a seat on the prestigious Board of Regents.
After law school, he often defended gay men arrested by Los Angeles police vice squads of the 1950s and ‘60s. But he was slow to join personally in gay liberation movements during the Vietnam War era, and he denied his secret to friends and family until much later.
In 1983, Andelson spoke at length to The Times about life as a gay educated professional man in Los Angeles in the days before many gays began to leave the closet. He recalled that insurance companies and landlords blacklisted single men, any hint of scandal could finish you professionally, and you lived in fear that police would raid genteel cocktail parties where the most scandalous behavior was heated discussions of Adlai Stevenson and Fidel Castro.
Andelson’s wealth came from legal work and a real estate empire he started by acquiring lots in what was then, two decades ago, the depressed county territory of West Hollywood.
As his financial portfolio grew, friends appealed to Andelson to support the fledgling gay causes that began to spring up around town. He contributed anonymously at first, but gradually began to donate larger amounts that attracted public attention. Eventually, he became one of the gay community’s most dependable sources of money for political and social causes.
Governor Jerry Brown had taken a big risk by appointing Andelson to the Board of Regents, traditionally one of the most prestigious posts that a governor of California has the power to fill. A nasty confirmation battle ensued, with state Sen. H.L. Richardson (R-Glendora) denouncing Andelson on the floor of the Senate as “a guy in the education world who has been pushing sick ideas and sick influences on the community.”
Andelson eventually won confirmation with no votes to spare, but only after transfering his ownership of “8709”, a popular gay bathhouse on West 3rd Street in Los Angeles, to a business partner.
Friends said later that the bathhouse, while highly profitable, proved to be a major embarrassment, especially as research suggested that the AIDS virus was being spread by promiscuous sexual relations then common at gay baths. The 8709 bathhouse finally closed as HIV-AIDS scared off clientele.
The Andelson Collection at the University of California, Santa Barbara Library is named in his honor. Located in the Ethnic and Gender Studies Library, the Collection supports the teaching curriculum and research interests of faculty and students in gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and studies across the disciplines.
In December 1987, aged 56, Andelson died of complications related to AIDS.