Family remembers TV, film actor from Weslaco

WESLACO — Family members on Monday recalled hearing stories of David Spielberg standing in front of a mirror as a child, singing and rehearsing lines to his favorite television shows.

It was a passion the Weslaco native took with him to Austin before traveling to New York City to hone his craft on stage, and eventually to Los Angeles, California, where he lived the rest of his days after embarking on a successful career in the TV and film industry.

His success was such that before Spielberg died at the age of 77 on June 1, he had nearly 140 acting credits to his name, including large roles in One Life to Live, Christine, ER, Law & Order, Baywatch, The West Wing and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Many consider his face instantly recognizable due to the volume of his work and the scope of genres it encompassed, but to Sue Arriaga of Weslaco, Spielberg will always be family. After all, it was her mother, Consuelo, who helped raise him and his brother Joe after a family tragedy.

Arriaga said the Spielbergs lost their mother, Manuelita, when they were children and were raised by their father, George Spielberg, and Consuelo, whom David Spielberg affectionately referred to as “Mama Cello.”

“After he first went to New York, he came down here to visit us and brought a picture of the first thing he had appeared in and showed it to my mom,” Arriaga recalled. “It was a play that had something to do with a king, and the photo was of the whole cast. Then he said, ‘Mama Cello, here’s a picture of my first play.’ But when he asked my mom who she thought he was in the picture, she believed he was one of the plain-dressed actors. He laughed and said, ‘No, Mama Cello! I’m the king!’”

His wife of 27 years, Janie Spielberg, shared impressions of her late husband’s career as well as all that earned a measure of pride in their household. Perhaps none more so than the immeasurable number of households he reached.

“I think he was just such a recognizable face that people don’t even know that they’ve seen him,” Janie Spielberg said. “He’s been in so many homes for so many years, as well as on the stage, in films and voiceovers on film that I, too, am impressed by the résumé that he had. We were especially happy that he worked on the political things he did, including an HBO movie that won some awards.”

The film she was referring to was Larry Kramer’s “The Normal Heart,” which chronicled the HIV and AIDS crisis in 1980s New York City.

Daniel Spielberg, David and first wife Barbara Spielberg’s son, remembered his father as a man with many passions who enjoyed life.

“He was a huge TV watcher and loved dogs — Golden Retrievers — and he loved Mexican food so much he could probably eat it every single day,” Daniel said with a laugh. “He loved to walk and played football when he was in high school. His uncle owned a local movie theater, and that’s how he got interested in acting because of the movie theater there. He also loved Shakespeare and old movies from (Alfred) Hitchcock and Billy Wilder.”

The 1957 Weslaco High School graduate has since not only earned the respect of the acting world but a sense of pride from the Mid-Valley community over a native son who made good on his childhood promise.

“My mom always told us about how he said he was going to be an actor, but no one really thought anything of it until he did it,” Arriaga said.