Leah Adler, mother of Steven Spielberg and popular restaurateur, dies at 97

Tom Tugend

LOS ANGELES  (JTA) — The mother of director Steven Spielberg, Leah Adler, a well-known restaurateur and talented former concert pianist and painter, has died.

Adler died on Tuesday at her home in Los Angeles at the age of 97.

Most of America and the world first heard her name when Spielberg kissed her and described her as “my lucky charm” while accepting an Academy Award as director of the film “Schindler’s List.”

Although invariably linked to her famous son, during the last four decades of her life Adler earned almost equal renown as proprietor, greeter and presiding presence at the strictly kosher The Milky Way restaurant in Los Angeles, popular with Orthodox rabbis, show biz luminaries and tourists.

Born  in Cincinnati as Leah Posner, she was raised during the Roaring Twenties and the subsequent Depression. At five, she learned to play the piano and studied at her city’s music conservatory.

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Shortly before the United States entered World War II, she had a single date with Arnold Meyer Spielberg, corresponded with him with him while he served with the Army Air Corps in the Pacific, and married him after his discharge in 1945. Over the next 10 years, the couple had four children, son Steven and daughters Anne, Sue and Nancy, all raised in a somewhat chaotic home environment that encouraged their different talents.

As Arnold Spielberg evolved into one of the pioneers in computers and system engineering, he moved frequently from city to city and his growing family with him. Along the way the family encountered the prevalent anti-Semitism of the times. For instance, in Scottsdale, Arizona a neighboring family used to stand outside the family home chanting, “The Spielbergs are dirty Jews.”

One morning, Leah Spielberg recounted, she got a hysterical phone call from the neighbors. It seemed that 10-year old Steven had sneaked out of the house during the night and smeared all their windows with peanut butter. Characteristically, the mother did not scold her son for this prank. As she recalled the incident later, she commented, “Wasn’t that ingenious of Steven? I was so proud of him.”

Leah and Arnold Spielberg divorced in 1965 and two years later she married Bernard Adler. In the late 1970s, the couple opened The Milky Way restaurant, with the husband handling the business end and his wife as hostess, greeter and reigning presence. She was also in charge of the hallway art gallery, featuring posters of each of her son’s movies.

The petite hostess became a popular, frequently quoted public figure who counseled foreign tourists on the fine points of kosher cuisine and on general life problems.

Leah Adler is survived by her four children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Her first husband, Arnold Spielberg, turned 100 this month and her second husband, Bernard Adler, died in 1995 at 75.