The Way-Out Way of Life, 1962

In fall 1962, California surpassed New York in population to become the most populous state in the United States. Traditionally, New York had been considered the nation’s economic hub, but the shift had been going on for a while, driven by post-World War II growth and immigration. By 1962, 41 percent of U.S. government’s spending in research and development had been going to California, and the state had 26 Nobel Prize winners in sciences, compared to 19 in New York (and mere 5 in all of the Soviet Union). Governor Pat Brown crowed that 10,000 new people were moving to California every 24 hours.

The Look magazine commemorated this in the special issue (September 25, 1962) focused on California. The issue began with the cover of a sunset behind a close-up of the Golden Gate Bridge went on to discuss “Tract Way of Life” about life in tract housing; the impact of new highways on the state; overcrowding in the National Parks, particularly Yosemite; Hollywood; and Foothill College as an example of a “jet age junior college,. Some prominent Californians like Bill Zacha, credited with saving the town of Mendocino; Jesse Unruh, the boss of the state’s machine politics; and the Chandlers, the owners of the Los Angeles Times, were profiled. Quirkiness was supplied by a spread on the state’s offbeat vegetables, listing recipes using such exotic ones as leeks, artichokes, eggplants and squash — hinting as how much blander the food in the rest of America was back in the day.

The centerpiece of the magazine was a profile on “New Californians” living a “Way Out Way of Life”, photographed by Cal Bernstein. The couple profiled were Bob and Helene Alexander prominent members of Palm Springs society, who were often photographed dining out at popular restaurants. The magazine’s photos featured Bob racing to work in his powder-blue Jaguar, Helene frolicking with her friend Barbara (then Mrs. Zeppo Marx, later Mrs. Sinatra) across their backyard brook, and the couple relaxing on their 64-foot built-in banquette sofa in their living room. The magazine noted Bob’s penchant for horseback riding and water-skiing the Salton Sea, and he noted that Palm Springs’ party culture was “undulating.”

Bob Alexander, owner of the Alexander Construction Company with his father George, had just moved into the new home designed for them by architect William Krisel. The Alexanders were the first major builders to construct tract homes in Palm Springs and his own place, then dubbed the “House of Tomorrow,” would later be known as the Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway after the singer stayed here following his 1967 wedding to Priscilla Presley.

The article annoyed the couple. After its publication, they became very shy of publicity. Three years after the article, the couple and Bob’s parents died in a private plane crash over San Jacinto Mountains during a thunderstorm.

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