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Andelson Dies of AIDS; Gay Regent, Activist

December 30, 1987|KEVIN RODERICK | Times Staff Writer

University of California Regent Sheldon Andelson, a Democratic Party heavyweight once regarded as the nation's most influential gay political figure, died Tuesday night of complications from AIDS at the Bel-Air mansion where he entertained senators and presidential hopefuls.

The first openly gay person appointed to the Board of Regents, or any other high position in state government, Andelson had been ill with the effects of acquired immune deficiency syndrome for more than a year. He was 56 and died quietly with family members at his side, a family spokesman said.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday December 31, 1987 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 5 Metro Desk 2 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
An article Wednesday on the death of Sheldon Andelson, a member of the University of California Board of Regents, omitted the name of one of the organizations where contributions may be sent in lieu of flowers. The family asks for donations to be made to the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in Hollywood, where Andelson was director emeritus, or to the American Foundation for AIDS Research.

"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.

Born in Boyle Heights when it was a Jewish enclave of Los Angeles, Andelson went on to accumulate wealth. He was a lawyer, art patron and the founder and chairman of the Bank of Los Angeles, which is based in West Hollywood.

But he 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.

Famous Visitors

Visitors included Kennedy, former Vice President Walter Mondale, former Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) 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 a homosexual. 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.

Target of Prejudice

While attending Manual Arts High School, Andelson said he felt the sting of prejudice for being a Jew. Then he went to Stanford, where he graduated, and discovered that his homosexuality admitted him to a more castigated minority.

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.

Andelson 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.

Just going to dinner at a nice restaurant required finding a woman friend to act as a "date," Andelson added.

Leading a Double Life

"The loneliness . . . God, I got depressed. . . . You lived a double life. We assumed we were excluded from the Red Cross, United Way, the Democratic and Republican Party. We knew where we weren't wanted and we didn't go there," Andelson said.

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.

But it was a quiet activism. He recalled blushing when a judge called him to the bench in 1971 and asked Andelson why his name was on the letterhead of a new social service agency for gays.

"I went out of the courtroom in a sort of daze. I thought, 'What do I do now? The word is out!' " Andelson said.

Honored at Dinner

His personal landmark came in 1979, when he revealed his sexual orientation to his father. The Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center, a large social agency in Hollywood, honored him with a dinner, a flashy affair attended by Brown and Lillian Carter, mother of President Jimmy Carter.

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