Health E-Insights: From where did your show name Zelda Gilroy originate?
Ms. Kuehl: It was Max Shulman, the director. That’s how it was written. Shulman had always used unusual names. He wrote all the characters for the series.
Health E-Insights: Do you still have contact with Dwayne Hickman, a.k.a. Dobie Gillis?
Ms. Kuehl: I don’t see him very often. He’s well and out and about. We e-mail back and forth and send birthday cards. It’s the extent of our communications. Every 10 years on my zero birthday I decide I will sing for 250 of my closest friends. I rehearse with a trio. And Dwayne and his wife and son will come to that event. So I see him at least every 10 years.
Health E-Insights: Can you envision getting back into showbiz?
Ms. Kuehl: I don’t miss showbiz, although I might want to do one more series as I get toward the end of my life—maybe something interesting like Betty White. After my entertainment industry work was over I worked at UCLA and then decided to go to law school. I went to Harvard. It was a wonderful revelation that you could actually earn a living by using your brain. Acting takes intelligence, but not intelligence you think up yourself. It’s in the service of a script or part.
Health E-Insights: Was it during your acting career that you decided to enter the law profession?
Ms. Kuehl: No, never. I thought I’d be an actor forever. I perceived that rumors started going around that I was gay, which turned out to be a true rumor. The phone stopped ringing. I did one more series after Dobie, and the phone never rang again. I couldn’t make a living as an actor. I went back to UCLA where I got my undergraduate degree. I started working in the student organizations office where we advised students how to accomplish their goals. Unfortunately, for the student groups I was advising at the end of the 60s, it was a time of great upheaval. My students did a lot of talking, coming around my apartment at night to talk about justice. They said I should go to law school. This was quite a bit after my show biz career fell apart in the early 60s.
Health E-Insights: Running for public office was the natural next step?
Ms. Kuehl: It didn’t occur to me. I wanted to be an advocate and activist. When I came out of law school the women’s movement was in full bloom. The work I wanted to do was with women’s issues.
Health E-Insights: What prompted you (in 1994) to become the first openly gay candidate (and then be elected to the California legislature)?
Ms. Kuehl: After term limits were put in place, and I started going to Sacramento to testify before committees, it became clearer to me that it was a job I could probably do with my legal and advocacy background. So I decided to run. I could see the things that I cared about were not getting a lot of attention in Sacramento.
Health E-Insights: If you could wave a magic wand and make one change in the world, what would it be?
Ms. Kuehl: A lot more income equality. I think the enormous gaps that have grown between the haves and have nots, especially in California—it doesn’t need to be.
Health E-Insights: What makes you laugh?
Ms. Kuehl: I love going to movies and I love eating out with my friends. It’s very pedestrian in a way, but it just gives me joy. It’s not just laughing. The other night I saw the movie, The Way Way Back. Some of it was funny; some of it painful about what families are really like, especially blended families. I really enjoyed it. But I enjoy The Lone Ranger and Superman too. Something that doesn’t take a lot of brain cells to enjoy.
Health E-Insights: Is there a golden rule by which you live?
Ms. Kuehl: The golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I really try to live that way.