Melissa Mathison, screenwriter of ‘ET,’ dies at 65

6 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Mathison wrote screenplay for E.T..

LOS ANGELES • Melissa Mathison, the former wife of actor Harrison Ford and the writer of the screenplay for the enchanting 1982 family movie E.T. Melissa Mathison, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter whose enormously successful “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” became a landmark in film history, died Nov. 4 at Los Angeles hospital.With just a handful of substantial screen credits, including one glorious triumph, Melissa Mathison had Hall of Fame status and the freehold on a pedestal of American greatness.In a statement, Spielberg, who has worked closely with Mathison on ET said, “Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave ET.” Known for her family friendly films, like the unequaled “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial” and the elegant “The Black Stallion,” Mathison’s stories were rich with symbolism, adventure, depth, and darkness.

She was 65. “I go to movies with my children and see fat kids burping, parents portrayed as total morons, and kids being mean and materialistic, and I feel it’s really slim pickin’s out there,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “There’s a little dribble of a moral tacked on, but the story is not about that. “E.T.” was the story of a young boy in the suburbs and the alien he befriended. She might never have matched the heights of her sophomore success “E.T.,” which came out when she was in her early 30s, but the film’s cultural resonance continues to reverberate even over three decades later. Her screenplay for director Steven Spielberg’s E.T., about the friendship of a boy and a marooned alien he finds in a toolshed, was nominated for an Oscar. She also wrote screenplays for Kundun (1997), about the Dalai Lama’s youth, and for The BFG, a family film adapted from Roald Dahl’s book, directed by Spielberg and due out in the middle of next year. Mathison “seems to know the newly separated young family, that sad American statistic, from its cracked heart out.” From 1983 to 1985, Mathison, Ford and their children lived on a 700-acre ranch outside Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the screenwriter put her career on hold. “I have two little children,” she told Newsweek. “I didn’t want to be missing their childhood while I was away, busy writing about children.” “We weren’t your mainstream ’50s family,” she said in a Times interview. “Both my parents had wonderful, eccentric, artistic friends who treated us as friends as well.

How your mind worked was considered important.” She went to the University of California at Berkeley, where she interrupted her studies in political science for a job in the movies with a family friend. I sometimes wonder if Mathison was influenced by the voice of Karen Carpenter in 1977 and her encoded cry for help in Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft. In other circumstances, her creative responsibility for this film might have been critically debated as hotly as the respective contributions of Welles and Mankiewicz for Citizen Kane, or the hurt feelings of screenwriter Robert Riskin, who according to legend threw 120 blank pages in front of director Frank Capra and shouted: “Put the famous Capra touch on that!” In fact, the “auteur” debate has moved on a little, and there is a greater understanding of the subtle and collaborative way Mathison worked with Spielberg.

After Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the director had wished to develop a story about a stranded alien, a project originally entitled Night Skies, and to bring in his own experience of his parents’ divorce. Mathison herself did not have the same experience of family trauma, growing up in the Hollywood Hills, one of five siblings in a happy home, daughter of Pegeen Kieffer and Richard Mathison.

Based on a 1982 children’s story by Roald Dahl, the film stars Mark Rylance as the title character, with Bill Hader and Rebecca Hall. “The BFG” reunited Ms. She had an instinctive sympathy for childhood and a shrewd grasp of dialogue: the way children hear the adult conversation going on over their heads – not quite understanding, and yet with antennae that register significances of which the speakers are unaware.

The unforgettable insult “penis-breath” in ET was something that Mathison remembered from her own childhood, although Spielberg would often let his child actors improvise. At these moments Mathison had agreed with the director that she would not be around, although Spielberg welcomed her as a presence on set throughout the shoot.

Later, Mathison would script a western for TV, Son of the Morning Star, a family adventure, The Indian in the Cupboard (from the Lynne Reid Banks novel) and the epic Kundun, directed by Martin Scorsese, a movie that was the focus of her lifelong commitment to Tibet and friendship with the Dalai Lama. Mathison was no fanatical careerist with a need to bulk up a résumé: she was clearly way beyond this, and was content to develop projects genuinely interested in her personally.

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