Melissa Mathison, screenwriter of the Steven Spielberg film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), has died at age 65. Her sister, Melinda Mathison, said the cause was neuroendocrine cancer.
A native of Los Angeles, Mathison began her career as an assistant on the critically-acclaimed films Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Godfather Part II (1974), jobs she landed as a result of having worked as a babysitter for director Francis Ford Coppola’s family when she was 12.
Her first screenwriting credit was for the 1979 children’s film The Black Stallion. She had an affinity for family movies, and also wrote the screenplay adaptation for The Indian in the Cupboard (1995).
In a 1995 interview with the Los Angeles Times she talked about the need for more challenging children’s films:
“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. There’s a little dribble of a moral tacked on, but the story is not about that,” she said. “We’d get back in the car after seeing a movie and I’d say, ‘Now what did you think about this?,’ and they’d have nothing to say.”
Her last screenplay was also a children’s film, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG, which stands for Big Friendly Giant. Spielberg once again directed.
In a statement Wednesday, Spielberg said of Mathison: “Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.”
Mathison was married to actor Harrison Ford from 1983 to 2004. They had two children, Malcolm and Georgia.