Those big eyes aren’t the stunning blinkers of a Redford, say, and at 3’4″ he falls a good deal short of leading-man stature. He utters scarcely a dozen words of dialogue in his movie, and you can bet that he won’t waddle off with an Oscar as this year’s Best Actor. All the same, few stars have captured the fancy of filmgoers as completely as E.T. has these past six months. Since his debut as the title character in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi fantasy, the homely little extraterrestrial has earned $300 million at the box office, set toy factories humming from Hong Kong to Hoboken, and become a cultural phenomenon rivaling Davy Crockett of the 1950s or Luke Skywalker a generation later.
E.T.’s appeal to children comes, of course, from shrewd and sensitive moviemaking. The film is a cosmic version of the old boy-and-his-lovable-pet story that has long been a staple of kid flicks, but it is also a kind of celluloid Space Invaders that takes a new look at who the good guys and bad guys really are. Unlike the fearsome aliens and malevolent mutants of earlier sci-fi movies, E.T. is kindly, harmless and painfully vulnerable. An awkward shrimp struggling in a grown-up world, he trips over his words, stumbles toward understanding, and never quite overcomes his sense of mystification. Every child can identify with his dilemmas, and Spielberg’s sympathetic camera makes it easy by presenting much of the action through E.T.’s own eyes, from three feet off the ground.
It is waist-level perspective that often reaches for moral heights. For many adults who have trooped off to theaters with their small fry, E.T has limned virtues and verities often missing from modern films: that good can triumph over bad, that beauty does lie within, that love can overcome all. The movie may seem like old-fashioned escapist fun at times, but its effect on audiences has been inescapable. A wrinkled gray-green alien lost on earth eventually speaks to the alienated soul deep within us all.
For some, like English professor Albert Millar Jr., 41, of Christopher Newport College in Virginia, the movie is a quasi-religious parable. Citing E.T.’s resurrection, his powers of healing and 31 other points, Millar has published a pamphlet, titled E.T.—You’re More Than a Movie Star, comparing the alien’s adventures to the story of Christ. For others, especially the millions of children who have found a kindred spirit in the alien visitor and his protectors, E.T. is an accessible and very real friend who knows their problems. More than 30,000 fans have written of their feelings in letters addressed to the alien’s fast-growing fan club, to director Spielberg or simply to “E.T., Hollywood, California.” Those on the following page are just a sampling, but they show that in a strange and wondrous way, in a voice both halting and guttural, E.T. learned to speak our language well.
A collection of E.T. fan mail will be published this spring by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. These letters were loaned by the star’s fan club (Box E.T, Mount Morris, Ill.), and, says director Steven Spielberg, “They make my heartlight glow.”
I have a friend who is having a birthday party in January. Could you come to it, because he loves you? How much do you charge for a personal appearance?
Lenny Leeper (age 12)
San Jose, Calif.
I have just the place for E.T. to come and visit. Between my bed and my dresser is a space just the size for E.T. Also, I have Reese’s Pieces ready for him.
Daniel Smith (age 8)
Santa Ana, Calif.
P.S. You can take E.T. back when you need him for his next movie.
P.P.S. You can trust me.
I am Tommy Andonian’s mother, and I am writing this letter for him as Tom has never really learned to write much more than his first name. Tommy is 20 and autistic, and he prefers his own strange inner world to the real one outside himself. Since he has always enjoyed movies filled with special effects, spacecraft and startling aliens, it was only natural for his parents to take him to E.T. In the darkened theater, Tommy came out of himself. He screamed, he clapped, he laughed, and then he cried—real tears. Autistics do not weep, not for themselves or any others. But Tommy wept, and Tommy talked, nonstop, about E.T. He has seen E.T three times now and is prone to touching fingers with others and solemnly repeating, “ouch.” E.T. has changed his life. It has made him relate to something beyond himself. It’s as though Tommy has also been an alien life form and trying to find his way home, just like E.T.
Garden Grove, Calif.
This summer I went camping, and I put a bag of Reese’s Pieces on the table, and in the morning they were gone! Did you eat them?
Peter Stone (age 10)
You are invited to come stay the night. I have a real roomy closet, but if it isn’t roomy enough for you, you can take my brother’s bed.
Dan Mize (age 13)
I am 4 years old. I saw you at the show. I love you. Come and visit me during the day, not at night. Also E.T. come without your costume.
This weekend I was not feeling very good. My daddy told me how I would have to take medicine so I would get better. My dad said E.T. takes medicine when he feels sick too. Today I am feeling much better.
Miranda Liebowitz (age 3)
P.S. Incidentally, my daddy wrote this letter for me. He likes E.T. too.
What planet do you live on? How tall are you? How much do you weigh? What kind of batteries does your finger take? Did you know that some people including me think that my baby brother looks like you? Do you know why? Because he has fat cheeks.
Amber Bakken (age 7)
When I was growing up I dreamed of meeting life from other worlds. I can remember staring off into the heavens outside my window and hoping that if I wished hard (and sincerely) enough, the inhabitants of the planetary system circling the only star I could see through my elm tree would come and visit me. I would go out at dusk and string yards of brightly colored wires on my dilapidated wire mesh fence. Maybe by some freak of physics I could send a message to my star. And they would come. Now the wires are gone, and the fence shows no signs of the enormous weight of dreams it once bore. The elm tree that once blocked all stars but my own got Dutch elm disease and lets hundreds of stars shine through its branches. And I have grown old, keeping childhood dreams hidden and tucked away. E.T. found that fantasy and let me live it again. You did justice to the dream of a child. Thank you, Steven Spielberg.
Rita Calm (age 29)
Hello E.T. You are my favorite character. I am always acting like you, and my friends think I am weird.
Billy Thurston (age 14)