Mother’s Day : Leah Adler Basks in the Glow of Her Son Steven Spielberg’s Oscar Success
A day after the Oscars, and mom’s little restaurant was buzzing--mom being Steven Spielberg’s mother, Leah Adler.
In between hugs and lunch patrons and congratulatory flowers, the 74-year-old proprietor was chattering Tuesday about that Academy Award-winning son of hers: how as a kid he used to slap on wet green toilet paper and lurch around the house like “the Mummy”; how he schlepped through school earning Cs; how, for one of his wacky home movies, Adler simulated a kitchen explosion by flinging cherry-pie filling all over her new cabinets.
“ Rubbed-ash cabinets,” she added, noting that the stain lasted years--and may still be there. “But it was a glorious scene.”
Then Adler laughed, a giddy, all-out laugh by a woman who lives all-out, like a character out of some--need it be said?--Steven Spielberg movie. Only hours after “Schindler’s List” had racked up seven Oscars, including honors for best picture and best director, Adler was back at work as usual, cracking one-liners, greeting customers, doing what she has done for 17 years at her Milky Way kosher restaurant in West Los Angeles.
But she was suddenly in the limelight. TV crews came through. Star-maker Michael Mann, a regular who put a client in one of the Indiana Jones movies, stepped in for the veggie-stuffed cabbage roll and potato pancakes.
“I have a movie deal for you--three pictures,” Mann joked.
Adler flashed a stern look: “No nudity.”
“Is this the happiest Jewish mother in the world?” someone asked her.
No question. “I told Steve, if I’d known how famous he was going to be, I’d have had my uterus bronzed,” the spry woman with short-cropped blond hair recalled, her blue eyes sparkling. She made that crack even before the Oscars. Spielberg was about to be honored last month at a black-tie tribute in New York, where he related his mother’s remark. “He said that to 1,000 people at the Waldorf-Astoria,” Adler said.
She just can’t keep her own mouth shut, Adler confessed. “I just spew,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll say something and just be stunned.”
There was a night, not long ago, when a surly diner demanded to know where she had gotten the rainbow trout. What waters?
“I told him, ‘I don’t know,’ ” Adler recalled. “ ‘It was dead on arrival.’ ”
Growing up in a poor household in Cincinnati, Adler had nothing short of a fairy-tale childhood. Her father adored her. Her mother adored her. “She’d look at me and just grin,” Adler said.
Adler, in turn, raised her own four children that way. Steven was the oldest. There was also Anne, who now lives in the San Fernando Valley; Susie, who lives in Silver Spring, Md., (“What a mouth,” mother says); and Nancy, who is raising two young children in New York.
Susie and Nancy flew out for the Oscars. They got to watch their older brother give mom a kiss on worldwide television, moving her to tears.
A grinning Nancy also popped in at the restaurant Tuesday--along with her husband, Shimon Katz, and two young daughters--and remembered some of the stunts that her brother pulled to get out of going to school. That scene in “E.T.” in which the boy holds a thermometer to the light bulb to fake a fever?
“That was Steven,” Nancy said.
Mom aided and abetted such high jinks, Adler admitted. All through her children’s younger years--through a divorce, a remarriage, moves from Scottsdale, Ariz., to Northern California, back to Phoenix, out to L.A.--Adler was a stable, loving, creative force. A onetime classical pianist who later created three of the paintings that hang in her restaurant, Adler still loves plenty of jalapeno in her salsa and lots of those other elements that add spice to life, such as the ominous drama of approaching thunderstorms.
“I like storms,” she said. “I love that feeling, ‘How bad is it going to be?’ ” Not only that, but she and daughter Anne have a sixth sense about the weather; they can tell if, say, there is snow in the mountains down to 3,000 feet. “There’s a certain feeling in the nostrils.”
A longtime family friend, Shirley Lamm, brought by yellow roses to commemorate the Oscars and talked about Adler’s role in shaping Spielberg’s career. Long before there was an extraterrestrial, or an Indiana Jones, there was this freewheeling woman who passed on a spark of fancy.
“She’s the Peter Pan that he couldn’t put in his films,” Lamm said. “She’s the E.T. that he couldn’t put in his films. She’s the pixie, she’s quixotic; she doesn’t have an artificial bone in her body.”
Mann, the star-maker, called her one of a kind. “She’s got this tremendous zest for life,” he said. “She loves her restaurant. She’s a very unusual woman.”
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