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Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial'

September 4, 2020 6.9k views14 items

Steven Spielberg’s 1982 classic, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, has long since cemented itself in the pop culture lexicon. The tale of a young boy’s transcendent friendship with the alien who just wanted to “phone home” is nostalgic for many, and still accessible for so many more. It not only moved audiences but also changed the lives of the people who worked on it: E.T. made Henry Thomas a child star and sent Drew Barrymore’s fame into the stratosphere.

Given its lasting significance in pop culture, there remains a strong interest in what happened on the set of E.T. behind the scenes. From a cut Harrison Ford cameo to the use of puppeteers, here are some tidbits about the making of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial you may not know.

  • Three Actors Wore E.T.'s Costume, One Of Which Was A 12-Year-Old Walking On His Hands

    Scenes that featured E.T. moving around called for a full-sized costume (made with hidden slits in the alien’s chest so the wearer could see), which was worn by three different actors over the course of production.

    The first person to embody the character was Matthew DeMeritt, a 12-year-old born without legs whom Spielberg found through the UCLA Medical Center. DeMeritt's suit was rigged so that he could place his hands into E.T.'s feet and use them to walk. He's the one operating the suit for E.T.'s intoxicated scenes in the kitchen (when he falls on his face). 

    Eventually, the costume proved too taxing for DeMeritt, and production brought in Tamara de Treaux and Pat Bilon, two little people hired to complete additional scenes. The actors were often cooled off with blow dyers between scenes. 

  • Reese's Pieces Weren't The First Choice Of Candy

    Elliott and E.T.’s intergalactic friendship begins thanks to Reese’s Pieces, with the former leaving the latter a trail of candies in the woods. Hershey (which made the candy) went on to see its profits go up nearly 300% thanks to the use of the product, but it might surprise you to know that Reese’s Pieces weren't the first choice of candy. 

    According to William Kotzwinkle (who wrote his novelization based on the screenplay), the original script specified the use of M&M's. However, the Mars Company refused to go along with the deal, believing it was doing just fine, and didn’t want to peddle its product in Spielberg's film.

    Mars’s loss proved to be Hershey’s gain: The film made Reese's Pieces a regular commodity at movie theaters around the world. 

  • The Movie Was Partially Inspired By How Lonely Spielberg Felt Making 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark'

    According to Steven Spielberg, the director always wanted to tell a story about a disenfranchised and lonely young boy. This desire stemmed from Spielberg’s relationship with his siblings and the divorce of his parents when he was a child. E.T. features this story, and Elliott’s loneliness is ultimately diminished by his friendship with the titular character. 

    While filming Raiders of the Lost Ark, Spielberg knew the spirit of the tale he wanted to tell, but he didn’t have much of a plot. In between set pieces, Spielberg walked out into the desert, picking up prehistoric seashells (the Tunisian desert used to be an ocean). In his solitude, the director felt “separate from himself," and pondered the question, “How do I tell this story of a lonely boy?”

    Over the next two to three days, Spielberg came up with the bare bones of what would become E.T. He then asked Melissa Mathison - Harrison Ford’s girlfriend at the time, and the screenwriter of The Black Stallion (which Spielberg enjoyed) - to write the film’s first draft. 

  • Harrison Ford Had His Cameo Cut From The Final Film

    E.T.’s screenwriter, Melissa Mathison, asked her boyfriend at the time (and future ex-husband), Harrison Ford, if he’d be up for a brief cameo in the movie. The scene took place in the principal's office after Elliott, under E.T.’s influence, releases all of the frogs in his biology class (and kisses the girl he likes).

    The principal in this scene was played by Ford, and though he is never seen, Ford’s unmistakable voice can be heard reprimanding Elliott.

    Ultimately, Spielberg cut this scene due to Ford’s rising popularity at the time. He thought the star of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark would distract audiences and take away from the immersion factor.