- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

Sue Spielberg is two different people when she watches brother Steven’s films.

The first is the movie lover next door, an Everyfan. To her, amazement comes easily, as it has for critics and legions of moviegoers across the globe — and the generations — weaned on Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning blockbusters.

The second is a kid sister who can never entirely forget, even during the harrowing “War of the Worlds,” which opened Wednesday, that that staggeringly successful, world-renowned director is just “Steve,” the same young boy who used to playfully torment her and her two sisters.

Ms. Spielberg, a married mother of two — Uri, 23, and Rachel, 20 — lives in Montgomery County. She works as a promotional marketing consultant. Her husband Jerry, an attorney, is senior political adviser to Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan.

Even as a young girl Sue realized that her brother possessed a vision unique among his peers. While she passed her childhood painting and playing the cello, her brother focused solely on making movies.

“Once, he took a cardboard box and made a high-rise out of it. Then he set it on fire and filmed it,” says the 51-year-old, adding he often used his camera to create effects his props couldn’t manage. “He always had an unusual idea … and he’d tell us horrific nightmare” stories.

The family moved often, but they spent most of their formative years in Arizona. The thought that a film icon could emerge from that state seemed ridiculous to Ms. Spielberg.

“We were so naive,” she says. “In Arizona no one made films. Nobody thought about that. He was just our bratty brother.”

The four Spielberg siblings shared a creative bent and a common desire to win their mother’s attentions. Beyond that, sibling rivalry never flourished, she says.

She shared her brother’s early successes alongside him. She leafed through the galleys for “Jaws” and also read an early draft of her brother’s screenplay for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Whenever he returned to Arizona for a visit from his new home in Los Angeles, Steven Spielberg would serve as Sue’s “movie buddy” if she didn’t have a date. The two took in “Dirty Harry” movies, she recalls, among many features.

She also remembers an early and rare Spielberg misstep, the World War II comedy “1941.”

“We walked out of the theater and there was this dead silence … I had a feeling the reviews would not be kind on this one,” says Ms. Spielberg, who dabbled in the arts during high school by playing Anne Frank in a school production.

As time passed, she got to see her brother evolve as an auteur.

“He had the option to do [‘Schindler’s List’] 10 years earlier … but he wasn’t quite ready to do it,” she says. Later, he met and married actress Kate Capshaw, who converted to Judaism, and, as Ms. Spielberg recalls, “he finally felt mature enough to do this movie. I saw him ready to take on a subject like that.”

Being Steven Spielberg’s sister is not without its perks. Family gatherings often involve her brother’s dear Hollywood pals, which means she often sees the likes of Martin Short, Mike Myers and Tom Hanks noshing along with her aunts and uncles. She also met Tom Cruise while the actor was filming “Minority Report” around the District.

“He didn’t jump off any couches at the time,” she says.

The biggest drawback she can think of to having a famous brother is having “to share him with the rest of the world.”

“I don’t get enough quality time with him … we do send IMS and e-mails,” she says, adding that the family gathers roughly four times a year.

She does find it amusing that, as soon as her brother achieved stardom she learned about just what an “extended” family they belonged to.

“Suddenly, all those people say they’re related to him, and I have no idea who they are,” she says.

She also gets the occasional script pushed under her nose. On the advice of lawyers she can’t accept them, she says.

“Every time he makes a movie someone says they wrote it first,” she says. That hasn’t stopped people from slipping her 8-by-10-inch glossies, film scripts and even short films in the hopes they’ll find their way to Mr. Spielberg’s desk.

Ms. Spielberg, who clung to her husband’s knee while watching her brother’s new film “War of the Worlds” at a screening Monday at the Uptown theater, says her brother’s affinity for his own family comes out in all his movies, no matter the subject.

“Each and every film has moments he takes from his childhood,” she says. In “Close Encounters,” a date listed by actor Richard Dreyfus was actually her own birth date. In “Jaws,” he included a childhood nursery rhyme he loved as a young boy in the narrative.

“That’s his Hitchcock thing,” she says.

This week, after watching her brother explore post-September 11 fears via “War of the Worlds,” she took a moment to consider his place in modern movie history.

“It sometimes boggles my brain that he is at this level,” she says.


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