Twenty years later, the computer baron-turned-political benefactor was still disenchanted with politics. But this time, his unhappiness stemmed from his conclusion that so-called fat cats, as he had been, had corrupted the political process. He became the biggest backer of Proposition 25, the initiative on the 2000 statewide ballot that sought to limit individual contributions, ban corporate donations and require overnight disclosure of any contributions over $1,000.
Palevsky's massive support of Proposition 25 came a day after news reports that then-Gov. Davis, who had received $150,000 from Palevsky for his political ventures over the years, had launched an aggressive effort to defeat the initiative by soliciting contributions from business interests. But it was, perhaps, too late: The state Democratic Party countered with a $500,000 donation to the anti-Proposition 25 forces; voters a week later soundly defeated the measure.
Palevsky felt so strongly about campaign finance reform that for the first time in his life he raised money for a Republican, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who spoke out strongly on the issue during his 2000 candidacy for the Republican nomination for president.
The son of Polish Jewish immigrants, Palevsky was born July 24, 1924, and grew up in Chicago during the Depression. His father was a house painter and his mother a homemaker; neither spoke much English.
During World War II, he served as an electronics officer in the Army Air Forces. Afterward, he studied at the University of Chicago, where he majored in mathematics and philosophy. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1948, then undertook postgraduate work at UC Berkeley and UCLA.
An expert in symbolic logic, he planned on an academic career. But Palevsky became fascinated by computers, which the public in the early 1950s considered science fiction. Palevsky saw the possibilities in the emerging technology and in 1951 left academia to stake his claim.
He worked in the computer division of Bendix Corp. and for Packard Bell before launching Scientific Data Systems with 11 other scientists in 1961. Over the next several years, sales for the company, which focused on an untapped market for small mainframe machines, soared.
He sold the Santa Monica-based company to Xerox in 1969, a time, he later joked, "when $1 billion meant something." His 10% share meant he pocketed $100 million.
Palevsky, whose fortune later earned him a spot in the Forbes 400, went on to serve as chairman or chief executive of Xerox's executive committee, Silicon Systems and Daisy Systems Corp. He was one of the first major investors in Intel.
By the time he sold Scientific Data Systems, he was already interested in politics. But as that passion waned, his commitment to art collecting deepened.
Palevsky amassed one of the world's premier collections of the American Arts and Crafts movement, including numerous pieces by Gustav Stickley.
In 1990, he gave 32 pieces of Arts and Crafts furniture to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; three years later, he added an additional 42 pieces to his gift. In 2000, he donated $2 million to LACMA for Arts and Crafts works. He supplied about a third of the 300 objects displayed in a 2004-05 LACMA exhibit, "The Arts and Crafts Movement in Europe and America: 1880-1920." Last year, the museum presented "The Arts and Crafts Movement: Masterworks From the Max Palevsky and Jodie Evans Collection."
His Japanese prints included many works by 18th century masters Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro. Palevsky loaned 44 of the 50 prints in his tightly monitored collection to LACMA for a show in 2001.
His passion for art embroiled Palevsky in controversy in the 1980s when he withdrew a $1-million pledge to help build a permanent downtown home for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.
Claiming that the then-fledgling museum reneged on a promise to give him architectural control of its new complex on Bunker Hill, he filed a lawsuit in 1984 to recoup $500,000 he had already given the museum and excuse himself from paying the other half million.
The museum ultimately settled the dispute with "an amount exceeding the sum [$500,000] paid to the museum," but less than the total amount he had originally pledged. He subsequently promised his art holdings to LACMA.
He could be unpleasantly controlling and admitted as much during an interview with The Times a few years ago.
When a reporter observed how he could not set down a book without carefully aligning its edges with the sides of a table, or how he meticulously arrayed six pairs of eyeglasses in a row next to six different decorative cases, Palevsky, who married and divorced five times, acknowledged, "I know it's all a little obsessive. I should have been an architect."
In addition to Evans, he leaves a daughter, Madeleine Moskowitz; four sons, Nicholas, Alexander, Jonathan and Matthew; a stepson, Jan Krajewski III; a sister, Helen Futterman; and four grandchildren.
In his last years, he increased his philanthropic efforts, giving $20 million in 2000 to his alma mater, the University of Chicago.
He professed little involvement in business affairs, having turned over the management of his finances to others. The man who had played a major role in creating today's computer-obsessed society also confessed that he no longer had much interest in technology. In fact, he had begun to disparage the revolution he helped spawn, believing that computers and the Internet had become "substitutes for interaction with the real world."
"I haven't touched a computer, watched TV or used a credit card in 15 years. I am," he told the Times in 2001, "a Luddite."