Cincinnati Native Leah Adler, Mother Of Steven Spielberg, Dies At 97

Feb 22, 2017

Steven Spielberg's mother Leah Adler, a Cincinnati native who gave birth to Steven here in 1946, died Tuesday in Los Angeles where she had operated The Milky Way restaurant. She was 97.

She was born Leah Frances Posner on Jan. 12, 1920, to Philip and Jennie Posner, and raised in Cincinnati during the Roaring Twenties and Great Depression.

She started playing piano at age 5, graduated from Walnut Hills High School and earned a home economics degree from the University of Cincinnati. She also studied at the old Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Leah once said she traced her love of music to hearing Cincinnati Opera performances at the Cincinnati Zoo and to her parents. Her father was a classical guitarist; her mother was a linguist, according to People magazine.

In 1945, she married Arnold Meyer Spielberg, a Hughes High School graduate studying electrical engineering at UC and co-oping at Crosley Corp. They had four children: Steven, Anne, Sue and Nancy.

Steven was born Dec. 18, 1946, when the family lived on Lexington Avenue in Avondale.

Although the family moved to New Jersey in 1949 after Arnold graduated– and in 1957 to Phoenix – Steven's early memories of his maternal grandmother and Cincinnati's Jewish community left a lasting impression on him.

In the 2007 “Spielberg on Spielberg” documentary on TCM, Spielberg said he learned his numbers in Cincinnati from Holocaust survivors in the home of his grandmother, Jennie Posner.

“My grandmother taught English to Hungarian Holocaust survivors when I was only 3 years old, living in Cincinnati,” he said. “I learned my numbers based on all the numbers they had tattooed on their arms (from Nazi concentration camps). And I had one man that used to say, “That’s a 2. That’s a 5,’ ” Spielberg said, pointing to his arm.

One of his grandmother’s students did a “magic trick” by turning his arm different directions.

“He said, ‘This is a 6. Now it’s a 9.’ I’ll never forget that. I was a little kid… I’ll never forget that.”

In a 1993 interview with Connie Chung on CBS, Spielberg said the inspiration to make "Schindler's List," his Oscar-winning movie about the Holocaust, came from his mother.

"I was very ashamed when I was a child of being Jewish. And this film has kind of come along with me on this journey from shame to honor," he told Chung. "My mother said to me one day, she said, 'I really want to be able to see a movie that you make someday that's sort of about us, and about, you know, who we are.' This is it. This is for her."

"Schindler's List" won seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best director. He called his mother "my lucky charm" in accepting the Oscar for best director in 1994, Variety said.

The Spielbergs  divorced in 1965. Arnold Spielberg turned 100 earlier this month in Los Angeles. Her second husband, Bernie Adler, died in 1995 at age 75.

The Hollywood Reporter said that Spielberg's company, Amblin Entertainment, issued a statement saying that "while known for her red lipstick and Peter Pan collars, for her love of daisies, for her blue jeans and sparkly bling, for her dancing from table to table around the Milky Way, and for her love of camping, fishing and crossword puzzles, Leah is best remembered for her deep, limitless love for the people around her."

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, a donation be made to a favorite charity in her name.