BEING THERE is based on Jerzy Kosinski's short comic novel about a simpleton, Chance (Peter Sellers), raised in isolation whose only education came from watching TV. When he's forced out of the house where he worked as a gardener by the death of the wealthy recluse who raised him from infancy, he's fortuitously struck by a limousine carrying Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), the wife of a wealthy industrialist. He's mistaken, because of his well-tailored suits, for a man of means and taken to dinner with her husband, Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas). There, as Chauncy Gardner, his blank affect is taken for seriousness and his literal pronouncements about gardening for metaphoric economic predictions. Soon he's meeting the president (Jack Warden) and becoming a star on TV--where he's a natural.
Kosinski was well known to be personally fascinated by the power of television. In BEING THERE, which he adapted for the screen himself, he presents a comic fable about a man whose entire sense of reality came from watching television. Sellers is marvelous as the always-deadpan cipher in whom everyone he meets sees whatever it is they need to see. Shirley MacLaine, Jack Warden, and Melvyn Douglas give outstanding performances in this biting satire directed by Hal Ashby.
1979 - Academy Awards - Best Supporting Actor Winner
Jerzy Kosinski - Polish Novelist/Dead
Don Zimmerman - American Editor
Robert Benton - American director/screenwriter
James Schoppe - Production Designer
James L. Schoppe - Production Designer
Hal Ashby - American Director/Editor
Andrew Braunsberg - Producer/Executive
Richard Basehart - American Actor
Peter Sellers - British Actor/1925-1980
Richard Henry Sellers - British Actor/1925-1980
Shirley MacLaine - American author, actress, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)
Shirley MacLaine Beaty - American author, actress, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (1983)
Jack Warden - American actor, SHAMPOO, HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1979)
Richard Dysart - American TV/Film Actor
Richard A. Dysart - American TV/Film Actor
Dianne Schroeder - Cinematographer
Frank Westmore - Makeup\"Being There"
Caleb Deschanel - Director/Director of Photography
Johnny Mandel - Composer
Melvyn Douglas - American Actor
Melvyn Edouard Hesselberg - American Actor
Charles Schram - Makeup\"Being There"
Theatrical release: December 19, 1979. Director Hal Ashby's former producer, Jerome Hellman, plays the role of Gary Burns, a talk show host. The film was cited for Best Screenplay by BAFTA. Jerzy Kosinski actually performed experiments in schools with young children, trying to see if TV creates culture or is a reflection of it.
"...Deadpan farce....Sellers in his greatest performance..." -- Rating: A- - 01/15/1999 Entertainment Weekly, pp.64-5
"...A stately, beautifully acted satire....Sellers never strikes a false note..." - 12/20/1979 New York Times, p.C20
"...A rare and subtle bird that finds its tone and sticks with it. It has the appeal of an ingenious intellectual game..." - 05/25/1997 Chicago Sun-Times, p.5
"[Chance] is a cipher both funny and frightening, making utter vacancy look like Zen inscrutability." - 04/01/2004 Premiere, p.64
4 stars out of 5 -- "[A] strange, evocative swan song whose charm is still strong after 30 years....It's an uncanny part for Sellers, who by repute was an empty vessel into which characters were poured." - 03/01/2009 Empire
4 stars out of 5 -- "Peter Sellers redeemed himself with one last major turn in BEING THERE....This is an exceptional comedy..." - 04/01/2009 Total Film