Reporting from Los Angeles
In certain well-connected circles, Max Palevsky was known as the billionaire patron of Los Angeles' first black mayor, Tom Bradley.
But his portfolio resembled a conglomerate's. A baron of the early computer industry, he helped found the world's largest chipmaker, Intel. He came up with the cash to save a fledgling magazine called Rolling Stone and bankrolled movies. And he used his immense wealth to build notable art collections that turned the Los Angeles County Museum of Art into a destination for lovers of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Palevsky, 85, died Wednesday of heart failure at his Beverly Hills home, said his wife, Jodie Evans.
"I'm not sure the average person knows him," said television producer Norman Lear, a longtime friend, "but anybody interested in the arts has Max to thank for the way he supported arts in this town … and, if you cared for his politics, for who he supported. He was a very unique soul."
The noted art collector and philanthropist gained prominence in the 1960s when he turned Scientific Data Systems, a builder of mainframe computers, into a hugely lucrative business that he sold to Xerox in 1969 for $1 billion. He went on to serve as a director and chairman of Xerox's executive committee before becoming a founder and director of Intel Corp.
He left the corporate world during the 1970s to produce movies, bolster the coffers of Rolling Stone and delve into politics.
He was an early supporter of George McGovern during his ill-fated 1972 presidential campaign, then ran Bradley's successful 1973 bid for mayor. He also was a major backer of Robert F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter during their presidential bids, and various campaigns of former Gov. Gray Davis. And, with Lear, he was a member of the "Malibu Mafia," a loose alliance of extremely wealthy Westside Democrats who used their influence to promote liberal causes and candidates.
In later years, Palevsky soured on politics and concentrated more of his attention on art. He built important collections of Arts and Crafts movement furniture and Japanese woodblock prints, which have been featured in shows at LACMA.
He made a dramatic reentry into the political fray in 2000 when he wrote a $1-million check to the campaign finance reform initiative co-authored by Ron Unz, a conservative Silicon Valley tycoon.
The contribution — the largest political donation Palevsky had ever made — shocked state Democratic leaders, who opposed the ultimately unsuccessful measure. But Palevsky, saying that he was sickened by the "corruption of the electoral process," announced that he made the contribution "in hopes that I will never again legally be allowed to write huge checks to California political candidates."
Palevsky got his first taste of politics in the 1960s. In 1966, he supported Tom Braden, a newspaper publisher, for California's lieutenant governor. In 1967, he was a regional leader of the antiwar group Business Executives Move for Vietnam Peace. Those experiences led to his involvement in Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign and the tumultuous Chicago Democratic National Convention, where he met McGovern.
"In some way, I guess, I tasted blood in the '68 campaign. I really saw what it was all about," he told the New York Times in 1972.
He jumped on the McGovern bandwagon before the South Dakota senator's stunning upset in the Wisconsin primary. "Max was his most important early contributor," said Frank Mankiewicz, McGovern's campaign director.
According to "The Power and the Glitter," a 1990 book about the interplay between Hollywood and Washington by former Los Angeles Times political writer Ronald Brownstein, Palevsky donated more than $319,000, which financed McGovern's successful direct-mail operation. He also raised money from others, represented McGovern at a meeting with Vietcong negotiators in Paris, and advised him on issues.
He abruptly left McGovern's side during the 1972 Democratic convention in Miami when he realized that his advice, particularly about the organization of the campaign, was being ignored.
"My role in the campaign wasn't that significant," he told The Times in 1973. "At a certain point I just found it all very boring and I just got up one day and said . . . 'Son, I don't see much point in staying around.' "
He did not stay out of politics for long, however. The following year he was the top advisor in then-Los Angeles City Councilman Bradley's mayoral campaign. He made Gray Davis the campaign's chief fundraiser, which launched Davis into politics. Bradley, who had lost his first bid for mayor to Sam Yorty in 1969, became the city's first African American mayor in 1973. He was reelected four times, an unprecedented run that ended with his retirement in 1993.
The 1970s were a heady time for Palevsky, who had joined forces with the Malibu Mafia, a group so named because some of its members, such as Lear, lived in the exclusive Malibu Colony.