Remembering ‘E.T.’ writer Melissa Mathison

Today we’re mourning the loss of one of Hollywood’s great, game-changing female writers. Melissa Mathison, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter and producer, who wrote everything from E.T. to The Black Stalliontragically passed on Wednesday, at age 65, after a battle with neuroendocrine cancer.

Mathison’s four-decade-spanning career kicked off with assistant roles on The Godfather: Part II and Apocalypse Now. In Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, he writes of a young Mathison “babysitting” director Francis Ford Coppola’s kids on set. That all changed in 1979, when her very first script became the hit movie The Black Stallion. And her career only skyrocketed from there, working with directors like Frank Oz on Indian in the Cupboard andMartin Scorcese on Kundun.

Still, she is best remembered for putting words to characters who helped shape the beating heart of ’80s cinema. Still in her early 30s when she penned 1982’s E.T., one of the highest-grossing films of all time, Mathison earned an Oscar nomination and the adulation of millions.

“I would write for four or five days in my little office in Hollywood, and then drive out to Marina Del Rey where Steven Spielberg was editing in a little apartment on the beach,” Mathison explained on a special-edition DVD of E.T., according to Variety. “I’d bring [Spielberg] my pages and we’d sit and go through them…It took about eight weeks for us to get the first draft, which was quite fast, I think.”

The result was a movie that wasn’t just about an alien, but the pains of being a misunderstood kid, and the emotional side of an unlikely friendship.

Writing about Mathison’s E.T. script, Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw wrote back in 2002, on the 20th anniversary of the film’s release:

Mathison was one of five children born to a journalist family that encouraged creativity and thinking outside the box.”We weren’t your mainstream ’50s family,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “Both my parents had wonderful, eccentric, artistic friends who treated us as friends as well. How your mind worked was considered important.”

Mathison was married to actor Harrison Ford from 1983 until 2004. She leaves behind their two children, Malcolm and Georgia.

Thousands have been taking to Twitter to express their grief and condolences for the writer, using many quotes she herself authored:

Mathison’s very last script has yet to be released — she reunited with Spielberg for his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG, out next year.

“Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave ET,” Spielberg said in a statement. “It was a script I was willing to shoot the next day. It was so honest, and Melissa’s voice made a direct connection with my heart.” Ours too.

(Images via Shutterstock)