To the Max
by Norman Lear
Sep 09, 2010 | 1163 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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The 2010 Telluride Film Festival is dedicated to legendary innovator and longtime festival patron Max Palevsky.

“One of the great turning points for the Telluride Film Festival was the addition of a state-of-the-art theater—designed for the old Telluride High School gym—that allowed us to show bigger films. This theater, “The Max,” was a dream of ours, and Max Palevsky, who had supported the festival nearly since the beginning, made that dream come true. Without Max’s generosity and vision, the festival would not be what it is today. It might not even exist. We miss Max and thank him and will remain deeply grateful for the many gifts he brought us.”

–Tom Luddy and Bill Pence, TFF co-founders


Max and I were drawn to one another—largely I think because our backgrounds were so similar. He was born to immigrant parents who spoke very little English, just Yiddish. I had parents too. He studied electronics at Yale, earned a B.S. degree in math and a B.Ph. in philosophy at the University of Chicago and did post-graduate work in philosophy at UC Berkeley. I went to Emerson College. For a year.

And then came our careers. Max joined the Bendix Corp. to develop the first digital computer for which—and I quote—“Max developed the DA-1 differential analyzer option, which connected to the G-15 and resulted in a machine similar to the MADDIDA, using the G-15 to rewire the inputs to the analyzer instead of the customary drums and wiring of the earlier machine.” You can see at once the symbiotic relationship between that activity and comedy writing.

There is so much I want to say about Max. But what leaps to mind first is a luncheon we had about a year ago at Spago. I think it says a lot about the life force that existed in this dour—sweet, despite the dourness—fun, despite the sad eyes—man. He called me and said he needed to talk to me. I was at the table when he came in. He’d been quite sick, and he came in very slowly, took a long time to sit down and after we exchanged pleasantries I asked him what he wanted to talk about. He looked up at me painfully, and asked:

“Norman, how often are you getting it on these days? And by these days, I mean in your 80s?”

After I caught my breath I asked—per year, per month, per week?

Dead serious, he said—“Per week.”

“Oh, maybe 9-11 times,” I joked.

He looked up at me, and he all but whimpered: “Two a week is all I can do now.”

I would say that is a life force.

Apologies to his wife, Jodie Evans, if in telling that story I revealed a bit of intimacy that involved you, too. And if it didn’t involve you, I made an even bigger mess of things. Then there’s the possibility that Max, at 80 something—and despite being so frail—could still bullshit about his sexual prowess as we all did when we were boys.

I wish I could have helped Max enjoy being Max. He seemed to me to be the last one to enjoy the gift he was to all of us—and in so many directions. He never understood how awesome I thought it that my friend Max had founded Scientific Data Systems, which he then sold to Xerox for a ton of money before funding Intel, one of the world’s leading semiconductor companies and the pioneer in the development of memory chips and microprocessors. Max didn’t seem to get—so likely he never took the pleasure from knowing—how brilliant and innovative he was to have done all of that.

Max Palevsky’s face was not used to expressing a lot of joy. I mean—if you had a Max Palevsky mask, you’d wear it to a divorce proceeding. Unless that mask captured the look on his face when he was reflecting on his kids and grandkids. I’ve known no one who has taken more pleasure from his children and his grandchildren than Max. The word “kvell” was invented to express what Max felt about their achievements, about knowing he was soon to be with them, and especially to travel with them, which he did extensively. And if his face could ever be described as lighting up, it was when he talked about Jodie, especially in this last year or so. I always thought calling someone an angel was cornball—until I saw Jodie caring for Max. But Max must have known that before he got sick. After all, he married her twice.

Max had great taste in everything. His Malibu house is as artful as the pieces of art inside it. What he collected, and the way he displayed it, I always felt was the rarest of combinations. Museum quality items in a casual atmosphere. I may not be explaining this well. It’s like trying to explain Max himself. He was like much of what he collected, one of a kind.

Max rescued Rolling Stone from financial ruin in 1970 and also in that year formed Cinema 5, a movie theatre and distribution operation that later joined with Cinema X. After that he went into independent production with Peter Bart at Paramount Pictures—and if all that wasn’t unique and eclectic enough, he was elected to the board of the American Ballet Theatre, developed a world-class collection of Japanese woodblock prints, established the Palevsky Design Pavilion at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, built the Arts and Crafts collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, provided the University of Chicago, his alma mater, with three large colorful dormitories, bought the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for the benefit of The American Cinematheque to present distinguished older films, and was the kingmaker behind the election of the first African-American mayor of a major city, our own Tom Bradley.

The last time I saw Max was at his home, and I called to see if it was OK to come over from my office just a few minutes away. I could see Max fighting to stay awake if only to say hello. He didn’t make it, but it was a delicious moment to see him fight to be there for me and then give in to what his body called for. The moment was a great metaphor.

Max was there for all of us. You could count on him. I think I want to close with that. We could count on Max Palevsky—and, Max, you can count on this: We are all here—wherever the hell we found a place to park—for you.


Norman Lear is the creator of television classics including All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude and One Day at a Time, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter and the founder of People for the American Way.
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