Here are things you probably didn’t know about E.T.:
Screenwriter Melissa Mathison didn’t want to do it.
Steven Spielberg had to keep nagging the Black Stallion screenwriter to do it. And then he enlisted the aid of Harrison Ford, whom she later married, to get her to write the script for him. And then he got producer Kathy Kennedy on her case as well, and Kennedy and Ford finally won her over to write a first draft.
Mathison asked Harrison Ford’s sons what powers E.T. should have
She asked Ford’s kids, Willard and Benjamin, what powers they’d like an alien to have, along with some other kids. They mentioned obvious things like telepathy and telekinetic powers, but then the kids also mentioned the ability to heal, which surprised Mathison. “They weren’t talking about saving someone’s life by healing. They were talking about taking the ‘owies’ away,” said Mathison.
E.T. is neither male nor female.
In fact, E.T. is a plant, not an animal, and has no gender whatsoever, according to Mathison’s first draft.
E.T. has glass eyes.
The people making the E.T. dummy were doing eyes that looked too “painted” for Spielberg, and didn’t have enough depth — so he asked around to find someone who does glass eyes, because glass eyes look real except that they don’t move. E.T. ended up with two oversized glass eyes, which were spaced so far apart that actors could only look at one eye at a time during their scenes with the alien.
E.T.’s legs were a boy who has no legs in real life.
At least in some scenes. Different people were in the E.T. suit during different scenes where E.T. is walking around, but in some of the key scenes, E.T. was a boy named Matthew who didn’t have any legs but could walk on his hands. Matthew was E.T. during the scenes where he gets drunk, for example. Also, E.T.’s hands were a professional mime wearing alien gloves, in some key sequences.
E.T. was Spielberg’s response to the “stalled space program.”
That’s what Spielberg said in 1981, adding: “If the government won’t fund the space program, to allow people’s imagination to soar, then all I can do is make movies that bring space down to earth and make it more accessible to the imagination.”‘
An early draft of the script had E.T. healing J.R., who’d just been shot on Dallas.
That idea got scrapped pretty quickly, though.
Harrison Ford plays the principal of Elliott’s school
but his scenes all got cut in the end. You wouldn’t have been able to see much of him, anyway, just the back of his head and his tweed suit as he taps a pencil — because Spielberg tried not to show the faces of adults in the film, other than Elliott’s mom. He mostly shot adults from the waist down. While the principal lectures Elliott, the boy starts rising off the ground because E.T. is doing some levitating at home.
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