The Fabelmans: How Much of the Award-Winning Story Is True?

The Fabelmans: How Much of the Award-Winning Story Is True?

The Fabelmans is the talk of the town right now after winning Best Drama at the Golden Globes. If you’re unfamiliar with the film, the plot is inspired by the life of its esteemed director, Steven Spielberg. The director seems to have lived an incredible life, but when watching The Fabelmans, there was more than one occasion during which I wondered how many of the specific plot points were true, so I decided to do some digging.

How much of The Fabelmans movie is true?

the fabelmans movie true
Image: Universal

Spoiler warning: This article reveals plot details about The Fabelmans.

Mitzi and Burt Fabelman are based on Spielberg’s parents

The characters of Mitzi (Michelle Williams) and Burt (Paul Dano) Fabelman are directly inspired by Steven Spielberg’s parents, Leah Adler and Arnold Spielberg.

Burt is a hard-working computer engineer, who works for the likes of IBM. In reality, Arnold Spielberg was indeed an electrical engineer who worked for GE and RCA. Similarly, Mitzi is a pianist in The Fabelmans, which is true to the life of Spielberg’s mother, Leah, a concert pianist and painter.

The family dynamic also includes Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) and his sisters, Reggie, Natalie and Lisa, who are based on Spielberg and his siblings Anne, Nancy and Sue.

Where did the Fabelmans live?

In the movie, the Fabelman family makes three significant location moves. They begin in New Jersey, before moving to Arizona and then California, as Burt Fabelman is offered significant jobs in the tech world.

The Hollywood Reporter confirmed in an interview with Spielberg that the film mirrors the real towns the director grew up in.

The first film Spielberg watched

the fabelmans
Image: Universal

In the opening of The Fabelmans, Sammy’s parents take him to his first movie, Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth. It’s a movie that has a profound impact on young Sammy, and it had a similar impact on young Spielberg.

The director confirmed in his 2009 Golden Globe recipient speech that his father took him to see his first movie, and it was indeed the same one as depicted in The Fabelmans.

Mitzi did buy a monkey

In the documentary Spielberg, it was revealed by Spielberg’s mother, Leah Adler, that she did indeed bring home a monkey as a pet one day, in the same way, Mitzi Fabelman does in the film.

Spielberg was bullied

The representation of the Fabelmans as a Jewish family is consistent with Spielberg’s own upbringing, and the antisemitic bullying he experienced is something that he kept in the film.

“Whether you’re Jewish or not, many kids know what it’s like to be bullied. Because I wasn’t good at sports and was a little bit of an outsider — or maybe a lot of an outsider — I had a lot of experiences being bullied.” Spielberg told THR.

The truth of the marriage breakdown

the fabelmans
Image: Universal

One of the major plot twists in The Fabelmans (serious spoilers ahead) is the reveal that Mitzi is in love with her husband’s best friend, Bennie (Seth Rogen), which Sammy discovers when making one of his home movies.

Spielberg told The New York Times this was something that was pulled directly from his experience:

“It really happened. That was one of the toughest things, I think, that I had to sit down and decide to expose, because it was the most powerful secret my mum and I shared since my discovery when I was 16.”

It’s also true that Leah did divorce Arnold in 1966, and she left him for one of his best friends, Bernie Adler, who she married in 1967.

The John Ford meeting

At the end of The Fabelmans, Sammy has nabbed his first job at a studio and is on his way to becoming a great director. While on the lot, he’s given an introduction to one of the world’s greatest film directors, John Ford.

This interaction is based on a real meeting between Spielberg and Ford when he was just starting out. Spielberg told the NYT:

“Ford was a hero of mine, and I got such great instruction from him, which he sort of made more of a bollocking than anything else. But I didn’t come out of that saying, Oh my God, he scared me to death. I came out of that so inspired. I was only about 16 when I met him, and I didn’t know anything about his reputation, how surly or ornery he was and how he ate young studio executives for breakfast.”

The scene in The Fabelmans plays out almost identically to Spielberg’s meeting with Ford, as he recounted in an interview in 2011.

The Fabelmans is playing in Australian cinemas now.

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