Melissa Mathison, the gifted screenwriter who penned Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, died Wednesday. She was 65.
Mathison entered the movie business almost accidentally, pausing her studies at UC Berkeley to work as family friend Francis Ford Coppola’s assistant during the production of The Godfather Part II. Coppola subsequently encouraged her to write her own scripts; his American Zoetrope production company would produce her first screenplay, the extraordinary 1979 family film The Black Stallion .
After that critically acclaimed film, she was tapped by Steven Spielberg to help bring his long-gestating E.T. to life. Released in 1982, it became the biggest box office hit of its time, and netted Mathison an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. “Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.,” Spielberg said in a statement Wednesday.
She also wrote Spielberg’s segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie before putting her burgeoning career on hold to marry Harrison Ford and raise their two children (the couple divorced in 2004). But there were occasional new scripts: 1995’s The Indian in the Cupboard, 1997’s Kundun (the result of a life of interest in, and advocacy for, Tibet), and the forthcoming The BFG, which reunited her with Spielberg. It’s slated for release next year.