Are Mitzi and Burt Fabelman Based on Steven Spielberg’s Mom and Dad?

Steven Spielberg’s period filmThe Fabelmans’ follows Samuel “Sammy” Fabelman, who gets obsessed with movies while dealing with several familial conflicts. Sammy witnesses his father Burt Fabelman and his mother Mitzi Schildkraut-Fabelman’s married life falling apart, especially due to the presence of Bennie Loewy in their family. The drama film progresses through the aftermath of one of Sammy’s startling discoveries concerning Mitzi and Bennie’s relationship. Sammy seeks solace in the home movies he makes while his family changes forever. Since ‘The Fabelmans’ is an extremely personal film for Spielberg, the viewers must be curious to find out whether Burt and Mitzi are based on the filmmaker’s mom and dad. Well, here’s everything you need to know about the same!

The Inspiration Behind Mitzi and Burt Fabelman

Yes, Mitzi and Burt Fabelman are based on Steven Spielberg’s parents. Mitzi and Burt are semi-fictionalized versions of Leah and Arnold, the filmmaker’s mother and father. Like Mitzi, Leah was a pianist who learned to play the piano at the age of five. She attended the Music Conservatory in Cincinnati as well. Arnold Spielberg, like Burt Fabelman, was an engineer who worked at General Electric, for whom he co-designed the GE-225 computers. Like Mitzi and Burt have Bennie in their life together, Bernie Adler was a significant presence in Leah and Arnold’s life as well.

The foundation of ‘The Fabelmans’ is Mitzi and Bennie’s relationship, which paves the way for the disintegration of the Fabelmans. As the film depicts, Leah and Bernie had an affair in real life, which led the former to get separated from Arnold. Spielberg believes that Leah “would have loved the fact that our secret [about the affair], that I held onto for so many years, would become the basis of [the film’s] story. I think she would have been very happy about that.” Leah eventually married Bernie and led a life together with the latter away from Arnold, as seen in the movie.

Sammy’s life changes severely when he finds out about Mitzi and Bernie’s affair and Mitzi and Burt’s divorce. He remains close to Mitzi while he fails to form a connection with Burt. In reality, he was close with Leah but didn’t form an admirable bond with Arnold. The filmmaker even blamed Arnold in the wake of the latter and Leah’s separation. “It’s still a mystery to me, but even though my mother was like an older sister to me, I kind of put her up on a pedestal. And my dad was much more terrestrial, much more grounded, much more salt of the Earth. And for some reason, it was easier for me to blame him than it was to someone who I was already—exalted,” Steven said in a ’60 Minutes’ interview.

Arnold Spielberg (middle) with Steven Spielberg (left) and Barack Obama (right)//Image Credit: The White House/Wikimedia Commons

Spielberg integrated several real-life memories regarding Leah and Arnold in the narrative of the film with his co-writer Tony Kushner. Burt’s obsession with work is based on Arnold’s life as a “workaholic.” “I missed my dad a lot growing up, even though we were together as a family. My dad was really a workaholic. And he was always working,” the director said in an interview given for ‘60 Minutes.’ Leah and Arnold did move from Arizona to California, which made the former separate from Bernie as Mitzi gets separated from Bennie due to Burt’s move.

In the film, Mitzi falls into depressive episodes after her move to California. In real life, Leah wasn’t any different. She “went from being completely joyful and celebrative about life” to “being full of despair and palpable sadness” after the move, said Spielberg in the 2017 documentary titled ‘Spielberg.’ To deal with her sadness, Mitzi brings a monkey home. In reality, Leah did bring a monkey home as well. “I remember the kids freaked out. They were so scared. Steve said, ‘You know, in a normal household, kids say, ‘Can we have a monkey,’ and the mother says, ‘Are you crazy?'” Leah said about the pet monkey, as per the same documentary.

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