Melissa Mathison might not have had a big resume as a Hollywood screenwriter, but what she wrote captured the imaginations of children and adults for over 30 years. Mathison died on Tuesday at the age of 65 after an lengthy yet undisclosed illness.
The first entry on her resume was the 1979 adaptation of the children’s favorite, The Black Stallion, the first of a number of literary adaptations she would bring to the screen. That film was a success, but nothing compared to her next film, which would arrive three years later.
While on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg told Matheson about an imaginary alien friend he had as a child, one who would act as the brother he never had. Inspired, Mathison wrote a script based on the idea, the first draft of which was completed in eight weeks. Titled E.T. and Me, the script went through a series of revisions until it eventually became E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Mathison earned an Oscar-nomination for her work on the script, and the film has become an indelible part of pop culture which lasts until this very day.
The year Mathison was nominated for an Oscar was also the year that she married Raiders star Harrison Ford. The pair were married for 21 years and the union produced two children.
Mathison’s 1982 also featured The Escape Artist, another literary adaptation she wrote for The Black Beauty cinematographer Caleb Deschanel’s directorial debut. She then would reunite with Spielberg for his adaptation of “Kick the Can” for 1983’s The Twilight Zone film anthology before writing an adaptation of another children’s book, The Indian in the Cupboard, in 1995.
In 1997, Mathison met with the Dalai Lama to bring his life story to the screen. The resulting film, Kundun, was directed by Martin Scorcese and told of the religious leader’s life from 1937 to 1959. Mathison would become an activist for a free Tibet, and was a board member for the International Campaign for Tibet up to her death.
Mathison’s final work will be yet another partnership with Spielberg, as she wrote the screenplay for The BFG, an adaptation of a Roald Dahl novel that is set for release on July 1, 2016.