A close encounter with Steven Spielberg’s dad

For Arnold Spielberg’s birthday in the late 1950s, his wife, Leah, gave him a Brownie movie camera. He had little chance to enjoy the present because it was immediately appropriated by his 13-year-old son, Steven.

Young Steven Spielberg repaid the gift a year or so later, when the already nascent director cast his father, dressed in his old army fatigues, as a jeep driver chasing German Gen. Erwin Rommel across the Arizona … er … North African desert.

The other actors in “Escape to Nowhere” were Steven’s high-school classmates portraying battle-worn soldiers in the opposing armies.

Arnold Spielberg recently spent two hours with a reporter in his home high up in the Pacific Palisades, a few blocks from the ocean, reminiscing about his part in bringing up a son and three younger daughters.

At 95, Arnold, a pioneer of the computer age, displayed an astonishing recall of dates, names, jobs and incidents in a full life, which he continues as one of the directors of a startup company designing unmanned land vehicles.

The interview took place about a week after the extended Spielberg clan had gathered at a Beverly Hills hotel to fete the family patriarch as he accepted the inaugural Inspiration Award of the USC Shoah Foundation Institute.

With an eye on the upcoming Father’s Day, Arnold shared some thoughts on his influence in raising four successful children—Steven; screenwriter Anne Spielberg Opatoshu; businesswoman Sue Spielberg Pasternak; and Nancy Spielberg Katz, a fundraiser and executive producer of documentary films.

“Leah and I had an open house, in the sense that we gave all our children a lot of freedom to do their own things and develop their imaginations,” he said.

With the freedom came some “sensible” restrictions, such as “not tearing up the house; not making a mess.” The strictures worked with the three girls, but not with the son: “Steven was his own person, and it was impossible to tie him down with rules,” the father admitted.

When the four Spielberg siblings stood on the stage with their father at the Shoah Institute event, they recalled various anecdotes from their childhoods.

Arnold and Leah Spielberg with their son, Steven. Photo courtesy of Arnold Spielberg

The young Steven had a terrible time falling asleep and no remedy seemed to help until his father put together an oscilloscope, with wave patterns and a green dot. “I just followed the dot and was fast asleep in seconds,” Steven remembered.

The girls spoke of their dad’s help with their math homework, and they recalled how he invented the character of Joanie Frothy Flakes, named for a frothy drink, who became the heroine of nightly bedtime stories.

Arnold, who became a crack rifleman while growing up in Kentucky, taught his only son the manly art of shooting at bottles, and Steven is still an expert skeet shooter, his father avowed.

More crucial to the son’s future career was the transformation of the family living room into a movie theater, with a white bed sheet doubling as its screen.

The screenings largely featured teenage Steven Spielberg productions, with the sisters working as candy hawkers.

Steven wanted to keep all the proceeds from the enterprise to buy more film, but, at the insistence of his father, he donated the ticket revenue to an organization aiding handicapped children. Profits from candy sales were Steven’s to keep.

Between engagements, the filmmaker made money whitewashing the trunks of orange trees to protect them from the sun, at 50 cents per tree.

Arnold’s own parents, Shmuel and Rebecca, the first generation of the family in America, both were born in Ukraine and immigrated to the United States in the first decade of the 1900s. They met and married in Cincinnati, where Arnold Meyer Spielberg was born.

In the best Jewish immigrant tradition, Shmuel started making a living with a pushcart and later became a jobber for wholesale and retail dry goods. Arnold described religious observance in his boyhood home as “Conservative to moderately Orthodox,” with his father attending shul every morning.

The economic fortunes of the Spielberg family went up and down. “In 1929, we had an especially good year, and we bought all new furniture,” Arnold remembered.

Then the Depression hit, and Shmuel, who had been a strict Shabbat observer, started going to work on Saturdays. With three children in the family, “My father had no choice,” Arnold said. “My mother somehow managed to put food on the table every day.”

Arnold’s parents hoped he would become a businessman, and, at 17, he went to work as a stock boy in a cousin’s department store in Kentucky.

But his heart was always in electric—and, later, electronic—gadgetry. At 9, he scrounged parts from garbage cans and put together the family’s first crystal set. His choice of radio stations was limited to the only one in Cincinnati—but it was a beginning.

At 15, Arnold became a ham radio operator, building his own transmitter, a skill that proved fortuitous when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1942, one month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and joined the Signal Corps.

Four months later, he went overseas to the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations, transferred to the Air Corps and trained as a radio-gunner for a B-25 bomber squadron.

But his skills on the ground—including the design of new airplane antennas—were so outstanding that he was promoted to squadron communications chief, though he flew two missions as a volunteer replacement radio operator/gunner. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his work in improving the capabilities and efficiency of communications.

Just before entering the service, Arnold went on a single date with Leah Posner, a friend’s kid sister, and the two corresponded throughout the war.

Back in the States, Leah, a talented concert pianist, married Arnold in January 1945, and their four children were born over the next 10 years. As the kids became older, all attended Hebrew school, and, later, Sue and Nancy participated in a year-long kibbutz work program in Israel.

As Steven’s filmmaking skills developed, Arnold served as his consultant, especially in the son’s first full-fledged production, “Firelight,” a 140-minute sound film.

“The story was a forerunner to Steven’s ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ with aliens landing on Earth, and I built the special effects,” Arnold said. “But while Steven would ask for my advice, the ideas were always his own.”

With Arnold’s own growing prominence in the computer and systems engineering fields and national companies competing for his services, the family led a fairly peripatetic life.

Over the years, Arnold worked for such companies as RCA, General Electric, IBM and Scientific Data Systems in such places as Cincinnati, Phoenix, Detroit, Orange County, San Jose and other locations in the San Francisco Bay Area.

He officially retired at 75 but continues as a consultant to the Shoah Institute and as a director of the startup Land Drone Co.

From left: Siblings Sue, Nancy, Anne and Steven with their father, Arnold Spielberg, at the USC Shoah Foundation Institute luncheon, where the elder Spielberg received the inaugural Inspiration Award. Photo by Kim Fox

The apparently harmonious family life was sundered in 1965, when Leah and Arnold decided to divorce. “The kids were very sad for a long time,” Arnold said, “but they knew that I would always be there for them.”

After the breakup, Steven moved with his father to Saratoga in the Bay Area; the two younger girls, Sue and Nancy, stayed with their mother in Phoenix; and Anne struck out on her own.

It was in Saratoga, during his last year in high school, that Steven was the target of vicious anti-Semitic physical abuse by classmates, though the father said that his son never told him about the constant harassment. By contrast, Arnold himself has encountered hardly any anti-Semitism throughout his life, he said, whether in school, in the service or during his professional career.

The relationship between father and son has had its ups and downs. Steven was fascinated by his dad’s World War II stories and later credited them with inspiring his “Saving Private Ryan” war movie.

But during Steven’s teen years, the two came to a parting, at least temporarily, according to Arnold.

Steven was working on his short film “Amblin’,” which later became his introductory card to Universal Studios, and commandeered the father’s living room to store and edit his footage.

Arnold, at the time recently divorced, was beginning to see other women and objected to Steven barging into the living room for his editing chores when the father was entertaining a date. There was a heated argument, and Steven moved out and relocated to Long Beach, where he was attending the local state university.

Arnold subsequently had a brief second marriage and is now married to Bernice, his third wife.

Counting the progeny of his four children and those of his subsequent two wives, Arnold says he has around 20 grandchildren and is on good terms with all of them.

Two wall hangings in Arnold’s home office catch the eye. One large photograph shows the gates of Auschwitz with a squadron of Israeli fighter planes flying overhead, autographed by the commander of the Israeli air force.

The second is a United States patent issued to Arnold M. Spielberg for an electronic library system.

The latter invention and skill underlies the Shoah Institute’s cataloging of some 52,000 interviews and 105,000 hours of visual history, a system conceived by Arnold and put into practice by Sam Gustman, the institute’s chief technology officer.

Arnold is credited with a number of breakthroughs during his professional career, among them early guidance systems and computer circuit designs, and the development of the first business computer, called the Bizmac.

He cites as his greatest contribution the first computer-controlled “point of sale” cash register.

Although Arnold remains very much his own man, being the father of Steven Spielberg draws “more attention than I deserve,” he observed.

He recalled traveling with his wife Bernice in France and stopping at a small hotel in the Provence region.

When he signed his name in the guest ledger, the owner called in his entire staff and proudly introduced “le papa de Steven.”

MUSIC VIDEO: ‘All I want for Christmas is Jews’

Relax—it’s comedy

Approximate lyrics:

I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
All I want for Christmas is…

I wont ask for much this Christmas
I dont even wish for snow
Just want a Jew who runs show business
Speilberg, Stiller Ari Gold
I will make a list and send it
Of my choices for St. Nick
Seinfeld, Zach Braff and Jon Stewart
Are the boys with a big schtick.
Cause I just want them here tonight
Holding on to me so tight
Ill take Zac Efron too
all I want for Christmas is Jews.

Menorah lights are shining
So brightly everywhere
And the big box office
Makes Jews millionaires
They may have killed our savior
Thats not the best behavior
Thats ok he rose again three days later
and now Im an active J-dater

Oh I dont want a lot for Christmas
Gentile boys are such a bore
Goldman, Weissman, Cohen, Levy
These are names that I adore
Oh I just want a chosen one
Hebrew boys are so much fun
Make my wish come true
Baby all I want for Christmas is


Comedy trio HotBox is behind the video:

Style: Stand-Up
Joined: February 07, 2007
Last Sign In: 2 hours ago
Videos Watched: 586
Subscribers: 48
Channel Views: 2,469

HOT BOX is a comedy variety show starring stand-up comedians Julia Lillis, Claudia Maittlen-Harris and Melissa McQueen. The show is kind of like that Rosie O’Donnell variety show… only funny. And fewer fat chicks. We’ve got sketches, stand-up, videos, singing (off key), dancing (out of sync)…

Basically, there is so much awesome stuff in a Hot Box show that we better watch out or we might get hijacked by Somali pirates.

You may have seen/heard HOT BOX at/on…
– 2008 Edinburgh Fringe
– 2008 Los Angeles Comedy Festival
– 2006 New York Underground Comedy Festival
– National Lampoon Radio
– Maxim Radio
– drinking at a bar near you


Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation joins list of Madoff victims

Steven Spielberg suffered some losses in the Bernard Madoff fraud scandal, though apparently nowhere near a rumored $300 million.

However, the famed filmmaker’s private Wunderkinder Foundation had some investments with Madoff, though Spielberg spokesman Marvin Levy said he was unable to detail the assets or losses of the foundation.

The Wunderkinder Foundation (translated as child prodigies) is a relative modest one compared to Spielberg’s much better-known Shoah Foundation and Righteous Persons Foundation.

According to the latest available public filing with the IRS, the Wunderkinder Foundation’s 2006 statement, covering the previous tax year, showed assets of $12,573,018 and grant distributions of $5,215,016. Spielberg gave $2 million to the foundation and is listed as the only donor.

According to press reports, Madoff managed 70 percent of the foundation’s dividend and interest income in 2006.

The lion’s share of the foundation’s grants, according to the IRS filing, went to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which received $3,338,000 for medical research.

The Ross School in New York City received $500,000 and the local Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services got $100,000.

Smaller grants went to some 55 diverse organizations and institutions, from the American Museum of Natural History to the Young Musicians Foundation.

From the Federation:

LOS ANGELES, Dec 15, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has been advised by The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles that it, together with a number of other major philanthropic institutions, as well as individuals and for profit investment companies, is included among those which have been victimized by an alleged fraud perpetrated by the New York based firm, Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

The Jewish Federation, together with other local charitable bodies, has for decades participated in a Common Investment Pool (CIP) managed by the Jewish Community Foundation. The CIP invests, with the input of professional advisors, significant funds on behalf of the Federation’s United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund in a range of investment classes and vehicles. Among these has been Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.

We have been informed by the Jewish Community Foundation that the Federation’s United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund may have sustained a loss of $6.4m as a result of the actions of Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC. This constitutes approximately 11% of Federation’s endowment funds as of December 2008.

Stanley Gold, Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Federation, stated, “We are both shocked and saddened to learn of this alleged fraud. The Jewish Federation is exploring various options to fully understand its exposure as well as how this occurred. We intend to aggressively protect and recover as much of Federation’s investment with Bernard Madoff Securities LLC, as possible. We will take all necessary actions to assure this type of action so hurtful to those who depend on our charitable organization never happens again.”

The Jewish Federation will continue to utilize the funds in the United Jewish Fund Endowment Fund to support its essential life saving work, at home and abroad, on behalf of the Los Angeles Jewish Community.

From The Jewish Community Foundation

LOS ANGELES (December 15, 2008)–The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles (The Foundation) today issued the following letter to the public regarding the impact of the collapse of the Bernard Madoff investment funds. The Foundation, the largest manager of charitable gift assets for Los Angeles Jewish philanthropists, stated:

Dear Friends,

The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles was shocked and outraged to learn that it is among the many victims of the massive fraud attributed to veteran Wall Street investment advisor Bernard Madoff.

The Foundation invested a total of $18 million with the Madoff firm, representing less than 5% (five percent) of the Foundation’s assets.

Donor Advised Funds were not affected by the Madoff fraud. Donor Advised Funds are held separately in Treasury notes and other government instruments.

The $18 million was part of The Foundation’s Common Investment Pool, set aside for long-term endowment-type uses.

The loss, while unprecedented in The Foundation’s 54-year history, does not threaten The Foundation’s stability, its existing commitments, or its ability to maintain its leading role in the Los Angeles philanthropic community.

Despite this loss, The Foundation has a long-term record of generating favorable returns from its investments. The Foundation’s emphasis on diversification, both of investments and of investment advisors, helped limit the impact of the Madoff collapse.

In light of the substantial recent declines in the stock market as well as the financial impact of the Madoff situation, The Foundation is re-evaluating its investment strategies and examining ways to respond to these changed market conditions. This process includes a full review of The Foundation’s policies, practices and due-diligence procedures.

The Foundation is aggressively pursuing every possible recovery and remedy related to the Madoff situation.

We are committed to a fully transparent sharing of information with our donors, supporters, grant recipients and the community, and will continue to report to The Foundation’s constituencies as we learn more. This will include updates to a dedicated page on The Foundation’s website at www.JewishFoundationLA.org.


Cathy Siegel Weiss Marvin I. Schotland
Chair President and CEO

Vatican invites rabbi to speak; IDF using Facebook to catch draft dodgers

The Vatican for the first time invited a rabbi to speak at its World Synod of Bishops.

The Oct. 6 address by Shear-Yashuv Cohen, the chief rabbi of Haifa and the co-chair of the Israeli-Vatican Dialogue Commission, marks the first time that such an invitation was extended to a non-Christian. Cohen will lead a one-day discussion of the Scriptures.

The three-week synod ends Oct. 26.

Cohen told the Catholic News Service that the invitation “brings with it a message of love, coexistence and peace for generations.” He added, “We see in [the] invitation a kind of declaration that [the Church] intends to continue with the policy and doctrine established by Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, and we appreciate very deeply this declaration.”

Yad Vashem Gets Shoah Foundation Videos

Yad Vashem has taken possession of copies of nearly 52,000 Holocaust video testimonies, giving it the world’s largest collection.

The USC Shoah Foundation for Visual History and Education, which was started by famed director Steven Spielberg, provided the latest testimonies to Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem.

The videos from the foundation at the University of Southern California supplement Yad Vashem’s existing archive of 10,000 filmed testimonies. The cumulative 200,000 hours of video are publicly accessible.

“The testimony of the survivors who personally experienced the horrors of the Shoah are the legacy that they impart to us,” said Avner Shalev, Yad Vashem’s chairman. “Their testimony has crucial educational and moral importance. It allows us to have meaningful Holocaust remembrance for generations to come, and represents an essential vehicle for imparting the memory of the Shoah.”

The Shoah Foundation videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors from 56 countries in 32 languages from 1994 to 2000.

IDF Using Facebook to Catch Draft Dodgers

Israel’s army is using Facebook to track down draft dodgers.

The army visited the Facebook account of a teenager who was dismissed from army service after declaring she was religious despite attending a secular school, and discovered that she did not lead a religious lifestyle, Ynet reported.

Pictures on her Facebook account showed that she did not dress in a style acceptable to the religious community and that she attended parties on Shabbat. The army has since drafted her.

The teen appealed the decision but was turned down.

Some 44 percent of Israeli teenage females do not enlist — 53 percent on religious grounds, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.