Melissa Mathison, who was Oscar-nominated for original screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial” and also wrote “The Black Stallion,” died Wednesday at UCLA Medical Center of neuroendrocrine cancer, her brother Dirk Mathison said. She was 65.
She recently reunited with Spielberg to write the screenplay for Roald Dahl adaptation “The BFG,” which is in post-production and will be released next year. Mathison, who was married to Harrison Ford from 1983 to 2004, had two children with the actor, Malcolm and Georgia.
Mathison also served as associate producer on “E.T.,” which was produced by Kathleen Kennedy.
Spielberg, who worked closely with Mathison on the concept for the film partially inspired by his parents’ divorce, said in a statement Wednesday, “Melissa had a heart that shined with generosity and love and burned as bright as the heart she gave E.T.”
On a DVD special edition of the 1982 classic, Spielberg described 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 explained on the DVD: “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.”
In a statement, Kennedy said, “Melissa was a remarkable friend not only to me but to everyone who had the privilege to know her. She was fiercely intelligent, confident, soulful, strong and had a smile that would light up a room. I will miss her terribly.”
Mathison also wrote screenplays for Martin Scorsese’s 1997 “Kundun,” during which she started a friendship with the film’s subject, the Dalai Lama.
She had a particular feeling for children’s literature, adapting classic novel “The Indian in the Cupboard” for Kennedy-Marshall Prods. She also wrote screenplays for “The Escape Artist,” a segment in the “Twilight Zone” movie as well as the TV movie “Son of the Morning Star.”
Mathison was born in Los Angeles on June 30, 1950, and grew up in the Hollywood Hills. Her father was Richard Mathison, a journalist who worked at the L.A. Times and then Newsweek. She attended UC Berkeley, majoring in political science, but put her studies on hold to work as an assistant to Francis Ford Coppola on the 1974 “The Godfather, Part II.”
She is survived by her two children; brothers Dirk and Mark Mathison; and sisters Stephanie Mathison and Melinda Johnson.