Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight

updated 07/24/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/24/1995 01:00AM

>CLEAR AND PRESENT DEADLINE

HARRISON FORD MAY NOT HAVE A BIG movie out this summer—but his wife, Melissa Mathison, does: The Indian in the Cupboard, the screen adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks's 1980 children's book, opened last week. The tale is about a boy who has a cupboard that can turn his toys into living beings. But you won't see Mathison in the movie. The 45-year-old mother of two—she and Ford are parents to Malcolm, 8, and Georgia, 5—wrote the screenplay. And rewrote it. Says Mathison: "Rewriting is what this business is all about."

She should know. One of five children of the late Richard Mathison, Melissa spent much of her youth in L.A., where her father served as West Coast bureau chief for Newsweek. The family's friendship with director Francis Ford Coppola landed Melissa a job as Coppola's assistant on 1974's The Godfather Part II. On a lark, she handed Coppola a script she had written. He read it—and asked her to write The Black Stallion. Her fate was sealed with her following project, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, in 1982 (the year before she married Ford, whom she met on the set of 1979's Apocalypse Now). "I don't remember saying I wanted to write scripts," she says, "as much as being told that I could."

These days, Mathison plies her trade from an office her superstar-carpenter husband built her a few feet away from their home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The kids know the rule: a closed door means Do Not Disturb. "But that doesn't mean someone's not going to come screaming in with a scrape or complaining about her brother," says Mathison. "And they do."

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