Even some of the biggest fans of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial aren't aware of Harrison Ford's cameo. And for good reason, as it was cut from the finished movie. But now the true story behind this legendary missing footage is being told by those who were there, and it all comes courtesy of Entertainment Weekly and their annual reunion issue.
You might think to yourself, where could Harrison Ford have shown up in E.T.? Was he Dee Wallace Stone's unseen Halloween date? Was he part of the research team? No. He was supposed to be part of the iconic frog escape that comes midway through the movie. Alas, his role in this scene has gone unseen for over thirty years.
The scene itself is notable for including a cameo from future Baywatch babe Erika Eleniak, whom Elliot gets to kiss. But when it came time to shoot the scene, then 10-year-old actor Henry Thomas was way more interested in getting to hang out with Han Solo and Indiana Jones himself, Harrison Ford, who was on set while these scenes were shot.
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Henry Thomas didn't just get to meet Ford, though. He actually got to act opposite the man, who was already a certified icon by the time E.T. started shooting. Thomas says this about meeting Harrison Ford for the first time.
"When I met Steven, the first thing out of my mouth was I think, 'I love Raiders of the Lost Ark,' and my hero was Harrison Ford. I basically was just excited to meet Steven in hopes that I would meet Harrison."
Not only had Harrison Ford starred in Steven Spielberg's earlier classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, the actor also happened to be dating E.T. screenwriter Melissa Mathison at the time. Between Mathison and Spielberg, Ford couldn't say no when asked if he'd step in for a quick cameo, which shouldn't have required more than one day's shooting. Ford was soon cast as the 'uptight, condescending principal' who scolds Elliot after he sets the frogs free, ending his revelry with a kiss on Erika Eleniak's lips. The joke was that this character was very against type for Ford, known for playing brash space pirates and swashbuckling archeologists. Says Spielberg about the cameo.
"He did the scene where E.T. is home levitating all of the stuff for his communicator up the stairs. Elliot is in the principal's office after the frog incident. We don't ever see Harrison's face. We just hear his voice, see his body."
Throughout the first two acts of the movie, Spielberg shot everything at child's-eye level. And he never showed the faces of the adults with the exception of mother Mary, played by Dee Wallace Stone. Because of this, Ford's face was never seen as he delivered a snivel-voiced grump in a swiveling chair. Other teachers are seen peeking through the blinds into the office, whispering about how Elliot is 'his own worst enemy'.
During the scene, Elliot still has a psychic connection with E.T. And that was put to good use in this deleted moment. Here's how Steven Spielberg describes it.
"Henry's chair starts levitating. So as E.T. is lifting all of the communicator paraphernalia up the stairs, Henry starts rising off the ground in the chair until his head hits the ceiling. Just as Harrison turns, E.T. loses control of the weight of everything and it all falls down the stairs, and Henry comes crashing down to the ground, and lands perfectly. Four-point landing. The principal turns around, and as far as he's concerned, nothing ever happened."
The scene is said to have been shot like a film noir, and it didn't really fit the tone of the movie. It also didn't add much to the story. Ford's huge presence, despite his face being obscured, felt like more of a distraction than anything else. There is blurry Youtube video of the scene, and you can see bits and pieces of it in a making-of featurette. About the moment winding up on the cutting room floor, the director says this.
"That was the scene that we cut out. But that's where [Henry] got a chance to meet Harrison."
Henry Thomas fondly looks back at that moment as one of the shoots bigger days. But he didn't end up saying much to his on-screen hero. And their interaction has been shuffled off into the dustbin of cinema. Some of these moments can be seen in the following Youtube clip.