Oscar-nominated screenwriter Melissa Mathison, who penned the scripts for such classics as E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and The Black Stallion, died Wednesday in Los Angeles after a battle with cancer. She was 65.
Born in Los Angeles, to parents who were both writers, Mathison attended the University of California-Berkeley before leaving to work as Francis Ford Coppola’s assistant on The Godfather, Part II. After another stint as an assistant on Coppola’s Apocalypse Now — where she met future Husband Harrison Ford — she wrote the script for The Black Stallion (1979), a wide-eyed, deeply-felt family film that was produced by Coppola’s American Zoetrope studio. She would later write the script for Black Stallion cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s The Escape Artist.)
However, it was Mathison’s script for E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) that would prove to be her defining work as a screenwriter; she had said she was frustrated with the kinds of films that were typically made for children. E.T. earned Mathison an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay; she and director Steven Spielberg would then collaborate on his segment of the 1983 omnibus film Twilight Zone: The Movie and the forthcoming fantasy adventure The BFG, which is slated for a 2016 release.
Mathison took time off in the mid-1980s to raise a family. She returned to the scene in 1997 with the script for Martin Scorsese’s Kundun, which was influenced by Mathison’s friendship with the Dalai Lama and her activism on behalf of Tibet. She is survived by two children from her marriage to Ford.