2015
Melissa Mathison dies at 65.

By writing her Oscar-nominated screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial (1982) she did the groundwork for one of the most beloved film classics of all time – also serving as associate producer.

Mathison wrote screenplays for Carroll Ballard’s The Black Stallion (1979), Caleb Deschanel’s The Escape Artist (1982), the second segment in Steven Spielberg’s Twilight Zone – The Movie (1983), the TV film Son of the Morning Star (1991), and Frank OzThe Indian in the Cupboard (1995). Mathison had a particular feeling for children’s literature, telling stories about children who she portrayed as sensitively heroic.

She recently reunited with Steven Spielberg to write the screenplay for the Roald Dahl adaptation The BFG (2016) which is currently in post-production. After hearing of her death, Spielberg says in a statement:

“Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.”

On the 2002 DVD special edition, Spielberg describes her contribution:

“Melissa delivered this 107-page first draft to me and I read it in about an hour. I was just knocked out. 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.”

Mathison explains:

“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. I’d bring him 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.”

Her screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1997), a movie about the Dalai Lama’s childhood and growth into a young man, reflected her decades-long interest in Tibet. With the help of Richard Gere, a supporter of Tibetan causes, she and Harrison Ford met with the Dalai Lama in Santa Barbara in 1990. She later pitched the notion of a film based on his early years.

Mathison was born on June 3, 1950 in Los Angeles and attended U.C. Berkeley. She interrupted her studies in political science for a job in the movies with a family friend. The friend was Francis Ford Coppola, whose children she used to baby sit. Mathison became his assistant on the set of The Godfather, Part II (1974). After Coppola urged her to write, she came up with her script for The Black Stallion (1979).

She had two children, Georgia and Malcolm, from her marriage to actor Harrison Ford. They divorced in 2004 after a 21-year marriage. 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 didn’t want to be missing their childhood while I was away, busy writing about children.”

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