In the Los Angeles Jewish community, she was almost as famous as her director-producer son, Steven Spielberg. Leah Adler, who passed away on February 21 at the age of 97, was adored for the warmth and kindness she exuded as the proprietress of The Milky Way, a kosher restaurant that she owned and ran for well over 30 years. The first time I ate there, it was a thrill to have Leah flit over to our table, flash her trademark big smile framed by bright red lipstick, and say hello, wanting to make sure everything was to our satisfaction.
She clearly loved her role as restauranteur, and not surprisingly, the entry halls in The Milky Way were proudly decorated with – what else? – framed posters of her son’s blockbuster movies.
The Milky Way is located next door to my shul, The Community Shul (otherwise known as Aish HaTorah Los Angeles), so I saw Mrs. Adler on occasion exiting from the black Lincoln Town Car that ferried her to work each day. Out-of-towners were eager to dine there, and truthfully, most people went there as much for a chance to have a quick schmooze with Leah Adler as they were to sample her famous cheese blintzes and her Friday special, a fish chowder that she made herself. Her personal charm made every visit an occasion to remember.
As a child, Leah Frances Posner studied piano, studying at the Music Conservatory and becoming a concert-level pianist. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in home economics. In February 1945, she married electrical engineer Arnold Meyer Spielberg, and they had four children — Steven, Anne, Sue and Nancy. The Spielberg family lived for a time in Cincinnati, and then spent seven years in Haddonfield, New Jersey. After the family moved to Phoenix in 1957, Leah began performing piano solos, and playing with chamber music groups. She was also an accomplished painter, opening The Village Shop in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she showcased works of local artists. She became known around town as "the lady with the Peter Pan haircut" who drove a Jeep.
In 1964, the family moved to Los Gatos, California, but the Spielbergs divorced a few years later, after which Leah returned to Scottsdale, where she married Bernie Adler in 1967. Leah and Bernie remained in Arizona for several years, eventually moving to Los Angeles, where they opened The Milky Way.
Adler died at her home in Los Angeles surrounded by her family, according to a spokesperson for Spielberg's production company, Amblin Partners. In addition to Spielberg and his wife Kate Capshaw, survivors also include her daughters Anne (and husband Dan), Sue (Jerry) and Nancy (Shimon), 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. (One of her granddaughters lives in Israel.) Anne is a writer, Sue a business owner and Nancy a producer.
Leah was known for her sharp wit. "I told Steve, if I'd known how famous he was going to be, I'd have had my uterus bronzed," she said in a 1994 Los Angeles Times story.
A statement from Amblin said 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."
Her first husband, Steven's father, turned 100 this month. Her second husband died in 1995 at age 75.