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20 years later, Dee Wallace Stone's "E.T." performance still charms

By Chris Lazzarino

She is a hard-working single mother of three fine children. Life for her spunky family isn't particularly easy, but neither is it overly trying. This mom of the house is a woman to be admired. Perhaps even revered, because in 20 years, she hasn't aged a day -- even with that ruddy little alien camping out in her youngest son's closet.

The mother portrayed by Dee Wallace Stone, d'71, in Steven Spielberg's 1982 "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," was, at the time of the landmark movie's release, commonly judged to be an interesting sidebar to the movie's central theme. In his original review, Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, for instance, only narrowly mentioned that Elliott, the 10-year-old boy who befriends the abandoned alien, had a mother.

What got lost in the universal delight of discovering E.T. and his
charming friendship with Elliott is that the center of the movie wasn't so much the little alien as it was the more general notion of home. E.T. wants to get to his, in the process reminding Elliott, Michael and Gertie to treasure the home forged for them by their mother -- notably (especially in 1982), without the help of a father, who has abandoned the family to trot off to Mexico with a younger woman.

As Spielberg re-releases "E.T." for a celebration of its 20th
anniversary, the message that has prevailed across the chasm of two monumental decades is: Don't forget to appreciate Mom. When he reconsidered "E.T." for the March 25 issue of The New Yorker magazine, critic Anthony Lane noted a crucial scene when Mary, the mother portrayed by Wallace Stone, finds her lost son after a scary and lonely night. Wallace Stone's performance, Lane wrote, "is exquisitely judged-a rushing embrace, then a spasm of anger for his having put her through the wringer, then a relieved collapse into love."

Wallace Stone is a Kansas City native who studied acting and education on Mount Oread. After one year of high-school teaching in Kansas City, she moved to New York, where she launched her professional acting career. With "E.T." as her pinnacle, Wallace Stone has forged a successful professional home of her own. She has had roles in 85 movies, and eight years ago launched the Dee Wallace Stone Acting Studio in Burbank, Calif.

She lost her husband of 18 years, Christopher Stone, to a heart attack in 1995, leaving her alone with their 6-year-old daughter. Two years later, she met a Los Angeles television producer and director, Skip Belyea, who became her second husband.

With "E.T." again in theatres, Wallace Stone on April 5 returned to
Kansas City for an appearance at a special screening at EastGlen 16 in Lee's Summit, and made a similar appearance April 6 in Wichita.
"It's about reconnecting and going home," she told the Wichita Eagle.

"After Sept. 11, it's the perfect time for E.T. to visit us all again."
She told the Eagle's movie critic, Bob Curtright, that her favorite
moment in "E.T." was the scene when she was putting away groceries, unaware that the little alien was right there in the kitchen with her. Mom was so focused on something she considered important, Wallace Stone said, that she wasn't paying attention to the things that are truly important. The scene, she said, should remind us "that parents need to be there more."

With the rerelease of "E.T.," both fans and critics are able to step
away from the hysteria that engulfed its 1982 debut. Paying less attention to the adorable alien and focusing on the simple messages that mean so much, we find at the heart of the story a loving, devoted mother giving every ounce of herself to her family.

In the end, we are all reminded-thanks to Wallace Stone's enduring
portrayal of a mother with the weight of the universe on her shoulders-to phone home. Literally or figuratively, "E.T." tells us to reconnect with the magic of family, just as Wallace Stone is doing as her greatest work again plays in movie theatres around the world.
"I'm never a celebrity at home," she told the Eagle. "I'm just a
hometown girl. All of Kansas City is my family."


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