Melissa Mathison

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Melissa Mathison
Melissa Mathison.jpg
Mathison in 2015
Melissa Marie Mathison[1]

(1950-06-03)June 3, 1950
DiedNovember 4, 2015(2015-11-04) (aged 65)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1979–2015
(m. 1983; div. 2004)

Melissa Marie Mathison (June 3, 1950 – November 4, 2015) was an American film and television screenwriter and an activist for the Tibetan independence movement. She was best known for writing the screenplays for the films The Black Stallion (1979) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), the latter of which earned her the Saturn Award for Best Writing and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.[2]

Mathison later wrote The Indian in the Cupboard (1995), based on Lynne Reid Banks' 1980 children's novel of the same name, and Kundun (1997), a biographical-drama film about the Dalai Lama. Her final film credit was The BFG (2016), which marked her third collaboration with film director Steven Spielberg.

Early years[edit]

Mathison was born on June 3, 1950, in Los Angeles, one of five siblings. Her father, Richard Randolph Mathison, was the Los Angeles bureau chief of Newsweek. Her mother was Margaret Jean (née Kieffer) Mathison, a food writer and convenience-foods entrepreneur. After graduating from Providence High School in 1968, Mathison attended the University of California, Berkeley.[3] Her family was friendly with Francis Ford Coppola, whose children were babysat by Mathison. Coppola offered her a job as his assistant on The Godfather Part II (1974), an opportunity for which she left her studies at UC Berkeley.[3]

With Coppola’s encouragement, she wrote a script for The Black Stallion, adapted from the novel, that caught Steven Spielberg's attention.[4]

Screenwriting and production credits[edit]

Mathison wrote the screenplay for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) in collaboration with Steven Spielberg. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.[5] The script was based on a story, written by John Sayles, that Spielberg provided to Mathison during the filming of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Spielberg attributes the line "E.T. phone home" to Mathison.[6] She collaborated again with Spielberg for The BFG (2016), her final film, which was dedicated in her memory. She also had film credits for The Escape Artist (1982) and The Indian in the Cupboard (1995).[3]

Dalai Lama[edit]

Mathison met the Dalai Lama in 1990 when she was writing the script for Kundun (1997) and developed a lasting friendship with him. She continued to work as an activist for Tibetan freedom and was on the board of the International Campaign for Tibet.[7]

Personal life and death[edit]

From 1983 to 2004, Mathison was married to Harrison Ford; the couple had two children. She died on November 4, 2015, in Los Angeles, aged 65, from neuroendocrine cancer.[3]

Screenwriting filmography[edit]

Year Title Genre Notes
1979 The Black Stallion Family-adventure
1982 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Fantasy-adventure-science fiction Saturn Award for Best Writing
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, (1983)
The line "E.T. phone home." is ranked 15th among the top 100 quotations of U.S. cinema by the American Film Institute.
The Escape Artist Drama
1983 Twilight Zone: The Movie Science fiction-thriller Segment 2, "Kick the Can"; credited as "Josh Rogan"
1991 Son of the Morning Star Western Television film
1995 The Indian in the Cupboard Family-adventure
1997 Kundun Biographical-drama
1998 The Emperor's New Clothes: An All-Star Illustrated Retelling of the Classic Fairy Tale Animated, Family
2008 Ponyo Animated, family-adventure Storyline consultant, English-language translation
2016 The BFG Family-fantasy-adventure Posthumous release
Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Writing


  1. ^ "Melissa Mathison". April 20, 2011. Retrieved November 4, 2015.
  2. ^ "Melissa Mathison". IMDb.
  3. ^ a b c d Chawkins, Steve (November 4, 2015). "Melissa Mathison dies at 65; screenwriter of 'E.T.,' 'Black Stallion,' 'Kundun'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 8, 2015.]
  4. ^ "Melissa Mathison: a masterful storyteller who brought ET to life", The Guardian, November 5, 2015.
  5. ^ Saperstein, Pat. "Melissa Mathison, 'E.T.' Screenwriter and Ex-Wife of Harrison Ford, Dies at 65". Variety. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  6. ^ Weber, Bruce (November 6, 2015). "Melissa Mathison, 65, Dies; Wrote Screenplay for 'E.T.'". New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2015.
  7. ^ Melissa Mathison, A Conversation with the Dalai Lama, Rolling Stone, July 21, 2011

External links[edit]