How ‘The Fabelmans’ pulls from Steven Spielberg’s childhood in New Jersey
In the Oscar-nominated The Fabelmans, it’s no secret that the real star is director Steven Spielberg’s film-struck childhood — from his family’s move to New Jersey, then Arizona and California.
If you’ve seen The Fabelmans, you know that the New Jersey years played a big supporting role. This is where Sammy Fabelman – Spielberg’s fictionalized version of his young self – lived when he first fell in love with movies. The rest is the story of the film.
At Sunday’s Oscars, Spielberg could win awards for best picture, best director and best original screenplay. Fabelmans is also in the running for four more Oscars.
What you may not know is that the Jersey part of the story happened right here.
Remember the house Sammy Fabelman and Mom Mitzi and Dad Burt came to after seeing The Greatest Show on Earth, the movie that changed little Sammy’s — well, Steven — life forever?
In real life, that was 267 Crystal Terrace in Haddon Township, the two-story, three-bedroom house the Spielbergs moved into in 1952 after paying $14,000, according to National Mortgage Professional. The family lived there for five years until they moved to Arizona.
The exterior of the house you see in the movie is not the Crystal Terrace mansion. According to Variety, the Fabelmans’ production designer Rick Carter and his crew used family photos and memorabilia from Spielberg and his sisters to recreate the interiors of the Fabelman children to receive their Hanukkah gifts and Sammy to film his Lionel trains.
Steven Spielberg and one of his sisters in their backyard on Crystal Terrace in the Haddonleigh section of Haddon Township. (circa 1954) The houses in the background are in the area of 250-260 Bewley Road.
But this wasn’t the Spielbergs’ first stop in Camden County, according to Joseph McBride, film historian and author of Steven Spielberg: A Biography. For three years beginning in 1949, the family lived at the Washington Park Apartments, 219 S. 29th in Camden, said McBride, who is also a professor at San Francisco State University’s School of Cinema.
The family moved to New Jersey from Cincinnati, where Steven Spielberg was born, when his father Arnold, an electrical engineer, took a job with RCA in Camden.
The Haddon Township part of the story is the most well-known, though even that is no small Hollywood thing.
“A lot of people in town are aware,” said JoAnn Carson, who now lives in the Crystal Terrace home with her husband, Dan, and their three children. “We’ve had people drive by and take pictures of the house. Not recently, but it has happened. It would be nice if Steven would stop.”
They didn’t buy the house because of its history, said JoAnn, who works in marketing, although Dan said he has enjoyed Spielberg’s films.
“As a current high school social studies teacher, I’m a huge fan of the Saving Private Ryan series and Band of Brothers,” said Dan.
The couple didn’t follow The Fabelmans until this week and left after seeing the inside look just like their home, as relatives had told them.
“We often wonder what his bedroom was,” JoAnn said. “There’s a story out there about a tree outside his bedroom window that inspired something similar in the movie Poltergeist.”
The Carson family, JoAnn, Aubrey, 13, Owen, 10, Dan and Grady, 13, pose for a portrait at the house where Steven Spielberg lived as a boy in Haddon Township, NJ on Tuesday, March 7, 2023. Spielberg’s film, “The Fabelmans “, is up for an Oscar for Best Picture.. … Read moreMonica Herndon / Staff Photographer
For the record, biographer McBride said a former homeowner told him about the spooky tree, as well as the cracks in the wall decorated with Spielberg’s imagination in his room that also found their way into Poltergeist.
Former Inquirer film critic Carrie Rickey said Spielberg told her his mother, Leah, dragged him to Wanamaker’s in downtown Philadelphia at the time, which led him to stand under the famous bronze eagle. of the store while she shopped.
“He said that if he ever had tests,” Rickey recalled, “the doctor would probably tell him that his fear of standing under the great Wanamaker Eagle probably led to many scenes in Jurassic Park.”
JoAnn Carson thinks the director’s time here must have left its mark.
“It seemed like he was very inspired by living here, even if it was a short time,” she said, “just from the movie he saw and all that.”
This part of the story is familiar, and is in The Fabelmans.
On Tuesday, Camden County officials dedicated a plaque honoring Spielberg at the site of the historic Westmont Theater, where many believe the director had his first and most inspiring cinematic experience. The building now houses a Planet Fitness, but the theater plaza remains.
Camden County Commissioners (not shown) honor film director Steven Spielberg with a plaque dedication outside the former Westmont Theatre, 49 Haddon Ave., Haddon Township NJ., Tuesday morning, March 7, 2023. “Some say it was in Westmont that Spielberg saw The Greatest Show on Earth as a child and fell in love with movies.” … Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer
“The Westmont Theater is an iconic venue here in Camden County that has played a role in many of our childhoods, including Steven Spielberg’s,” said County Commissioner Louis Cappelli Jr. “We wanted to honor Spielberg and his connection to South Jersey by placing a commemorative banner where the Westmont Theater once stood.
The Westmont, a first-run theater, was not far from Spielberg’s home, so it’s likely the future director will head there at some point.
Whether it was his first is a bit unclear. In 2009, in his acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, Spielberg revealed that he had seen The Greatest Show on Earth with his father at a theater in Philadelphia, leading some cinephiles to speculate that it was the Boyd Theater, a former Center City movie theater. the palace. Biographer McBride said his research had suggested the sighting could have been in Camden. Spielberg, he said, has a history of changing certain details of his life.
Westmont Theatre, 49 Haddon Ave., Haddon Township, NJ, as seen on Tuesday morning, March 7, 2023. “Some say it was at Westmont that Spielberg as a child saw ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ and fell in love with it movies.” … Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer
Here are the details local officials say they’re sure of: Spielberg was an avid Cub Scout who later showed generosity to scouts, based in part on his time in Haddon Township. He attended Thomas Edison Elementary School. His family was a member of Congregation Beth El.
And on either side of the Delaware River, it was here that a young man saw his first film and sparked the inspiration to become one of America’s most famous filmmakers.
On Sunday night, we’ll see how that guy’s movie — The Fabelmans — fares at the 95th Academy Awards.