Being There

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Being There
Original movie poster for Being There.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHal Ashby
Screenplay byJerzy Kosiński[a]
Based onBeing There
by Jerzy Kosiński
Produced byAndrew Braunsberg
StarringPeter Sellers
Shirley MacLaine
Jack Warden
Melvyn Douglas
Richard Dysart
Richard Basehart
CinematographyCaleb Deschanel
Edited byDon Zimmerman
Music byJohnny Mandel
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • December 19, 1979 (1979-12-19)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$7 million[2]
Box office$30.2 million (US)[3]

Being There is a 1979 American satire film directed by Hal Ashby. Based on the 1970 novel of the same name by Jerzy Kosiński, it was adapted for the screen by Kosiński and the uncredited Robert C. Jones. The film stars Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine, and features Jack Warden, Melvyn Douglas, Richard Dysart, and Richard Basehart.

Douglas won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and Sellers was nominated for Best Actor.[4] The screenplay won the British Academy Film Award for Best Screenplay and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay.

In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected Being There for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[5][6][7]


Middle-aged, simple-minded Chance lives in the townhouse of a wealthy old man in Washington, D.C. He has spent his whole life tending the garden and has never left the property. Other than gardening, his knowledge is derived entirely from what he sees on television. When his benefactor dies, Chance naively tells the lawyers that he has no claim against the estate and is ordered to move out.

Chance wanders aimlessly, discovering the outside world for the first time. Passing by a TV shop, he sees himself captured by a video camera in the shop window. Entranced, he steps backward off the sidewalk and is struck by a chauffeured limousine owned by elderly business mogul Ben Rand. In the car is Rand's glamorous and much younger wife Eve, who mishears "Chance, the gardener" in reply to the question who he is, as "Chauncey Gardiner".

Eve brings Chance to their palatial estate to recover. He is wearing expensive tailored but outmoded clothes from the 1920s and 1930s, which his benefactor had allowed him to take from the attic, and his manners are old-fashioned and courtly. When Ben Rand meets him, he takes "Chauncey" for an upper-class, highly educated businessman who has fallen on hard times. Rand admires him, finding him direct, wise and insightful.

Rand is also a confidant and advisor to the President of the United States, whom he introduces to "Chauncey". In a discussion about the economy, Chance takes his cue from the words "stimulate growth" and talks about the changing seasons of the garden. The President misinterprets this as optimistic political advice and quotes "Chauncey Gardiner" in a speech. Chance now rises to national prominence, attends important events, develops a close connection with the Soviet ambassador, and appears on a television talk show during which his detailed advice about what a serious gardener should do is misunderstood as his opinion on what would be his presidential policy.

Though he has now risen to the pinnacle of Washington society, the Secret Service and some 16 other agencies are unable to find any background information on him. During this time Rand's personal physician, Dr. Allenby, becomes increasingly suspicious that Chance is not a wise political expert and that the mystery of his identity may have a more mundane explanation. Dr. Allenby considers telling Rand this, but remains silent when he realizes how happy Chance is making him in his final days.

The dying Rand encourages Eve to become close to "Chauncey". She is already attracted to him and makes a sexual advance. Chance has no interest in or knowledge of sex, but mimics a kissing scene from the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair, which happens to be showing on the TV. When the scene ends, Chauncey stops suddenly and Eve is confused. She asks what he likes, meaning sexually; he replies "I like to watch," meaning television. She is momentarily taken aback, but decides she is willing to masturbate for his voyeuristic pleasure, thereby not noticing that he has turned back to the TV and is now imitating a yoga exercise on a different channel.

Chance is present at Rand's death and shows genuine sadness at his passing. Questioned by Dr. Allenby, he admits that he "loves Eve very much" and also that he is just a gardener. When he leaves to inform Eve of Ben's death, Allenby says to himself, "I understand," but interpretation of that is left to the viewer.

While the President delivers a speech at Rand's funeral, the pallbearers hold a whispered discussion over potential replacements for the President in the next term of office and unanimously agree on Chauncey Gardiner as successor. Oblivious to all this, Chance wanders off through Rand's wintry estate. He straightens out a pine sapling flattened by a fallen branch, then walks across the surface of a lake. He pauses, dips his umbrella deep into the water under his feet, then continues on, while the President is heard quoting Rand: "Life is a state of mind."



Principal filming occurred at the Biltmore Estate, the largest private home in America, located in Asheville, North Carolina.[8]

Melvyn Douglas's granddaughter, Illeana Douglas, visited the set and met Peter Sellers, who is her favorite actor. She has since credited the film for inspiring her to pursue a career in acting. According to Illeana, Sellers and Douglas had known each other since the 1940s, when they first met in Burma during World War II. They often reminisced about their war days while on the set.[9]

Burt Lancaster was Ashby's first choice for the role of Ben Rand.[10][11] Laurence Olivier was also considered for the role, but he turned it down because of the masturbation scene.[10][12]

According to MacLaine, "(Peter) believed he was Chauncey. He never had lunch with me... He was Chauncey Gardiner the whole shoot, but believing he was having a love affair with me."[13]

The making of the film is portrayed in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, a biographical film of Sellers' life.


Incidental music is used very sparingly. What little original music is used was composed by Johnny Mandel, and primarily features two recurrent piano themes based on "Gnossiennes" No. 4 and No. 5 by Erik Satie. The other major pieces of music used are the Eumir Deodato jazz/funk arrangement of the opening fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra and "Basketball Jones" by Cheech and Chong. These pieces respectively accompany the title credits and Chance's first arrival to the Biltmore Estate.[14]

Mandel was also assisted by his cousin and fellow composer Miles Goodman with the orchestration of the film.[15][16][17][18][19][20]

Reception and legacy[edit]

The film opened to positive reviews and gave Sellers a hit after many of his previous films outside of the Pink Panther series had flopped. Film critic Roger Ebert awarded a full grade of 4 out of 4 stars in his original print review.[21] Gene Siskel also gave the film a perfect grade of 4 stars, calling it "one of those rare films, a work of such electric comedy that you are more likely to watch it in amazement than to break down and laugh."[22] Janet Maslin of The New York Times called the film "a stately, beautifully acted satire with a premise that's funny but fragile." [23] Variety called it "an unusually fine film" that "represents Peter Sellers' most smashing work since the mid-1960s."[24] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "a gentle, exquisitely funny film," adding, "Sellers hasn't been so terrific—or had such terrific material—in years."[25]

Vincent Misiano reviewed Being There in Ares Magazine #3 and commented that "The film's humor never flags and yet its delicately bitter irony is never far away. It satirizes politics and politicians, business and businessmen, and, finally, all the rest of us and what we imagine we see when we look at one another."[26] In his 2005 book The Great Movies II, Roger Ebert mentioned the reaction of his students to the final scene (which is unique to the film, not appearing in the book),[27] stating that they once suggested that Chance may be walking on a submerged pier. But, Ebert writes "The movie presents us with an image, and while you may discuss the meaning of the image, it is not permitted to devise explanations for it. Since Ashby does not show a pier, there is no pier — a movie is exactly what it shows us, and nothing more."[28]

The credits at the film's end roll over an outtake, known as the "Rafael outtake." Sellers was later displeased that the outtake ran because he believed it took away from Chauncey's mystique.[29] He also believed the outtake was what prevented him from winning the Oscar.[9][30]

The film holds a score of 95% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 55 reviews, with an average rating of 8.56/10. The critical consensus reads: "Smart, sophisticated, and refreshingly subtle, Being There soars behind sensitive direction from Hal Ashby and a stellar Peter Sellers performance."[31] In 2003 The New York Times placed the film on its Best 1000 Movies Ever list.[32]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Actor Peter Sellers Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Melvyn Douglas Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Andrew Braunsberg Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Peter Sellers Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Shirley MacLaine Nominated
Best Screenplay Jerzy Kosiński Won
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Hal Ashby Nominated
Fotogramas de Plata Awards Best Foreign Performer Peter Sellers Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Peter Sellers Won
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Shirley MacLaine Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Melvyn Douglas Won[b]
Best Director – Motion Picture Hal Ashby Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Jerzy Kosinski Nominated
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Hal Ashby Nominated
London Critics Circle Film Awards Special Achievement Award Peter Sellers Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor Melvyn Douglas (also for The Seduction of Joe Tynan) Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films Won
Best Actor Peter Sellers Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
National Society of Film Critics Awards Best Actor Peter Sellers Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Melvyn Douglas Nominated
Best Screenplay Jerzy Kosinski and Robert C. Jones Nominated
Best Cinematography Caleb Deschanel (also for The Black Stallion) Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Actor Peter Sellers Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Melvyn Douglas Won
Best Screenplay Jerzy Kosinski Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium Won

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in:

Home media[edit]

A 30th Anniversary Edition was released on DVD and Blu-ray in February 2009.[9] The Criterion Collection issued the film on DVD and Blu-ray in March 2017.[34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert C. Jones worked extensively on the screenplay. He has said that both he and Kosiński initially shared a writing credit, but the Writers Guild of America overruled the decision and awarded Kosiński sole credit.[1]
  2. ^ Tied with Robert Duvall for Apocalypse Now.


  1. ^ Kaufman, Debra (March 1, 2014). "Robert C. Jones: 2014 ACE Career Achievement Award Honoree". Cinemontage. Motion Picture Editors Guild. Archived from the original on November 23, 2018. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  2. ^ "The Films of Hal Ashby". Beach, Christopher (2009). Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, p. 177, ISBN 978-0-8143-3415-7.
  3. ^ "Being There, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  4. ^ "The 52nd Academy Awards (1980) Nominees and Winners". SAMPAS.
  5. ^ Mike Barnes (December 16, 2015). "'Ghostbusters,' 'Top Gun,' 'Shawshank' Enter National Film Registry". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 16, 2015.
  6. ^ "2015 National Film Registry: "Ghostbusters" Gets the Call". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  7. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  8. ^ Henion, Leigh Ann (March 2011). "A Behind-the-Scenes Visit to Biltmore". Our State. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  9. ^ a b c Vigil, Delfin (February 15, 2009). "Illeana Douglas inspired by Melvyn's 'Being There'". San Francisco Gate. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  10. ^ a b Sikov, Ed (2003). Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers. Hachette Books. ISBN 9781401398941.[page needed]
  11. ^ Dawson, Nick (2009). Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 210
  12. ^ Mell, Eila (2005). Casting Might-Have-Beens: A Film by Film Directory of Actors Considered for Roles Given to Others. McFarland. ISBN 30
  13. ^ "Shirley MacLaine On What Peter Sellers Was Really Like" on YouTube
  14. ^ Stoehr, Ingo Roland (2001). German Literature of the Twentieth Century: From Aestheticism to Postmodernism. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781571131577.
  15. ^ "Miles Goodman, 47, Composer for Films". The New York Times. August 20, 1996. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  16. ^ Jablon, Robert (August 18, 1996). "MILES GOODMAN, FILM COMPOSER AND JAZZ RECORD PRODUCER, DIES". Associated Press. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  17. ^ Oliver, Myrna (August 20, 1996). "Miles Goodman; Record Producer, Film Composer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  18. ^ "Miles Goodman: Composer". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. August 22, 1996. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  19. ^ "Record producer, composer Miles Goodman dies at 47". The Daily Gazette. August 21, 1996. Retrieved March 25, 2015.
  20. ^ "Why does "Being There" highlight "Basketball Jones" so prominently | ScreenPrism". Archived from the original on July 27, 2016.
  21. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Being There". Retrieved November 24, 2018.
  22. ^ Siskel, Gene (February 8, 1980). "Sellers builds on perfection in 'Being There'". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 3.
  23. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 20, 1979). "Film: Ashby-Kosinksi 'Being There'". The New York Times. p. C20.
  24. ^ "Being There". Variety: 19. December 19, 1979.
  25. ^ Thomas, Kevin (December 20, 1979). "A Kosinski Novel Comes to Life". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 36.
  26. ^ Misiano, Vincent (July 1980). "Film & Television". Ares Magazine. Simulations Publications, Inc. (3): 32.
  27. ^ Ebert, Roger (2006), The Great Movies II, Random House, Inc., p. 52, ISBN 978-0-7679-1986-9
  28. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 25, 1997). "Being There review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on June 23, 2011. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  29. ^ Kim, Wook (November 26, 2012). "After 'The End': 10 Memorable End-Credit Scenes". Time. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  30. ^ Dawson, Nick (2009). Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 226
  31. ^ "Being There". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 16, 2020.
  32. ^ The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made. The New York Times via Internet Archive. Published April 29, 2003. Retrieved June 12, 2008.
  33. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved July 17, 2016.
  34. ^ Wilkins, Budd (March 29, 2017). "Being There". Slant Magazine. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  35. ^ Adamczyk-Grabowska, Monika (2001). "The Role of Polish Language and Literature". In Wolitz, Seth L. (ed.). The Hidden Isaac Bashevis Singer. University of Texas Press. p. 137. ISBN 029279147X.


External links[edit]