Being There
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Being There

Being There
Original movie poster for Being There.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byHal Ashby
Produced byAndrew Braunsberg
Screenplay byJerzy Kosi?ski[a]
Based onBeing There
by Jerzy Kosi?ski
StarringPeter Sellers
Shirley MacLaine
Jack Warden
Melvyn Douglas
Richard Dysart
Richard Basehart
Music byJohnny Mandel
CinematographyCaleb Deschanel
Edited byDon Zimmerman
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 comedy-drama film directed by Hal Ashby. Based on the 1970 novel of the same name by Jerzy Kosi?ski, it was adapted for the screen by Kosi?ski 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]


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 camera in the shop window. Entranced, he steps backward off the sidewalk and is struck by a chauffeured car owned by elderly business mogul Ben Rand. In the car is Rand's 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 home to recover. He is wearing expensive tailored 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 dinners, 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 top 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 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 realizing how happy Chance is making him in his final days keeps him silent.

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 (confirming for the viewer that it is not just a skim of water on the ground), 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.[6]

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.[7]

Burt Lancaster was Ashby's first choice for the role of Ben Rand.[8][9]Laurence Olivier was also considered for the role, but he turned it down because of the masturbation scene.[8][10]

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."[11]

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. 6 by Erik Satie. The other major piece of music used is the Eumir Deodato jazz/funk arrangement of the opening fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss.[12]

Mandel was also assisted by his late cousin and fellow composer Miles Goodman with the orchestration of the film.[13][14][15][16][17]


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[18] and mentions the final scene in his 2005 book The Great Movies II (p. 52),[19] stating that his film students once suggested that Chance may be walking on a submerged pier. 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."[20]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."[21]Janet Maslin of The New York Times called the film "a stately, beautifully acted satire with a premise that's funny but fragile." [22]Variety called it "an unusually fine film" that "represents Peter Sellers' most smashing work since the mid-1960s."[23]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."[24]

The film holds a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 52 reviews, with an average grade of 8.6 out of 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."[25]

Sellers won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy for his performance. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor as well, at the 52nd Academy Awards, but lost to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer.

Melvyn Douglas won his second Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture.[26][27]

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.[28] He also believed the outtake was what prevented him from winning the Oscar.[7][29]

An alternative credit sequence has waves on a television set as they would appear on an "unoccupied" channel.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in:

Home media

A 30th Anniversary Edition was released on DVD and Blu-ray in February 2009.[7]The Criterion Collection issued the film on DVD and Blu-ray in March 2017.[31]

See also

  • Politics in fiction - a list of other fictional stories in which politics similarly features as an important plot element
  • The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma - a novel said to bear strong resemblance to Being There and thus a subject of controversy in 1982


  1. ^ Robert C. Jones worked extensively on the screenplay. He has said that both he and Kosi?ski initially shared a writing credit, but the Writers Guild of America overruled the decision and awarded Kosi?ski sole credit.[1]


  1. ^ Kaufman, Debra (March 1, 2014). "Robert C. Jones: 2014 ACE Career Achievement Award Honoree". Cinemontage. Motion Picture Editors Guild. Retrieved 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 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 2015.
  6. ^ Henion, Leigh Ann (March 2011). "A Behind-the-Scenes Visit to Biltmore". Our State. Retrieved 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Vigil, Delfin (February 15, 2009). "Illeana Douglas inspired by Melvyn's 'Being There'". San Francisco Gate. Retrieved 2015.
  8. ^ a b Sikov, Ed (2003). Mr. Strangelove: A Biography of Peter Sellers. Hachette Books. ISBN 9781401398941.[page needed]
  9. ^ Dawson, Nick (2009). Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 210
  10. ^ Mell, Eila (2005). Casting Might-Have-Beens: A Film by Film Directory of Actors Considered for Roles Given to Others. McFarland. ISBN 30
  11. ^ "Shirley MacLaine On What Peter Sellers Was Really Like" on YouTube
  12. ^ Stoehr, Ingo Roland (2001). German Literature of the Twentieth Century: From Aestheticism to Postmodernism. Boydell & Brewer. ISBN 9781571131577.
  13. ^ "Miles Goodman, 47, Composer for Films". The New York Times. August 20, 1996. Retrieved 2015.
  14. ^ Jablon, Robert (August 18, 1996). "MILES GOODMAN, FILM COMPOSER AND JAZZ RECORD PRODUCER, DIES". Associated Press. Retrieved 2015.
  15. ^ Oliver, Myrna (August 20, 1996). "Miles Goodman; Record Producer, Film Composer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015.
  16. ^ "Miles Goodman: Composer". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. August 22, 1996. Retrieved 2015.
  17. ^ "Record producer, composer Miles Goodman dies at 47". The Daily Gazette. August 21, 1996. Retrieved 2015.
  18. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Being There". Retrieved 2018.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (2006), The Great Movies II, Random House, Inc., p. 52, ISBN 978-0-7679-1986-9
  20. ^ Ebert, Roger (May 25, 1997). "Being There review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on June 23, 2011. Retrieved 2010.
  21. ^ Siskel, Gene (February 8, 1980). "Sellers builds on perfection in 'Being There'". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 3.
  22. ^ Maslin, Janet (December 20, 1979). "Film: Ashby-Kosinksi 'Being There'". The New York Times: C20.
  23. ^ "Being There". Variety: 19. December 19, 1979.
  24. ^ Thomas, Kevin (December 20, 1979). "A Kosinski Novel Comes to Life". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 36.
  25. ^ "Being There". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2018.
  26. ^ Flint, Peter B. (August 5, 1981). "MELVYN DOUGLAS DEAD; ACTOR, 80, WON 2 OSCARS". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015.
  27. ^ Reid, Joe (February 24, 2014). "The Oscar Ballot Explained: Best Supporting Actor/Actress". Retrieved 2015.
  28. ^ Kim, Wook (November 26, 2012). "After 'The End': 10 Memorable End-Credit Scenes". Time. Retrieved 2015.
  29. ^ Dawson, Nick (2009). Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 226
  30. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016.
  31. ^ Wilkins, Budd (March 29, 2017). "Being There". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2017.


External links

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