AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Being There
Director: Hal Ashby (Dir)
Release Date:   1979
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 20 Dec 1979; Los Angeles opening: 21 Dec 1979
Production Date:   began Jan 1979
Duration (in mins):   120
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Cast:   Peter Sellers (Chance/[Chauncey Gardiner])  
    Shirley MacLaine (Eve Rand)  
    Jack Warden (President "Bobby")  
    Melvyn Douglas (Benjamin ["Ben"] Rand) in
  Co-Starring Richard Dysart (Dr. Robert Allenby)  
  Co-Starring Richard Basehart (Vladimir Skrapinov)  
    Ruth Attaway (Louise)  
    Dave Clennon (Thomas Franklin)  
    Fran Brill (Sally Hayes)  
    Denise DuBarry (Johanna, Thomas Franklin's wife or girl friend?)  
    Oteil Burbridge (Lolo, Boy on corner)  
    Ravenell Keller, III (Abbaz, Kid with knife)  
    Brian Corrigan (Policeman, By White House)  
    Alfredine Brown (Old woman, Asked for lunch)  
    Donald Jacob (David, Chauffeur)  
    Ernest M. McClure (Jeffery, Liveryman)  
    Kenneth Patterson (Perkins, Butler)  
    Richard Venture (Wilson, Chance's valet)  
    Arthur Grundy (Arthur, Rand's valet)  
    W. C. "Mutt" Burton (Lewis, Doorman)  
    Henry B. Dawkins (Billings, X-ray technician)  
    Georgine Hall (Mrs. Aubrey, Rand's secretary)  
    Nell P. Leaman (Constance, Nurse)  
    Villa Mae P. Barkley (Teresa, Nurse)  
    Alice Hirson (First lady)  
    James Noble (Kaufman, Presidential advisor)  
  Presidential aides: Timothy Shaner    
    William F. Williams    
    William Dance    
    Jim Aar    
  [And] William Lubin    
    Gerald C. McNabb, Jr. (Secret service agent, Woltz)  
    Hoyt Clark Harris, Jr. (Secret service agent, Riff)  
    Ned Wilson (Honeycutt, Agency)  
    Stanley Grover (Baldwin, Bureau)  
    John Harkins (Courtney, Financial editor)  
    Katherine DeHetre (Kinney, News researcher)  
    William Larsen (Lyman Stuart, News publisher in bar with Courtney)  
    Jerome Hellman (Gary Burns)  
    Arthur Rosenberg (Morton Hull, Producer of Burns show)  
    Sam Weisman (Colson, TV makeup man)  
    Fredric Lehne (TV page, With glass of water)  
    Gwen Humble (TV guest)  
    Laurie Jefferson (TV reporter)  
    Allen Williams (Other reporter)  
    Janet Meshad (Other reporter)  
    Paul Marin (Other reporter)  
    Melendy Britt (Sophie)  
    Hanna Hertelendy (Natasha Skrapinov)  
    Elya Baskin (Karpatov, Russian aide)  
    Thann Wyenn (Ambassador Gaufridi, "Are you proficient in other languages?")  
    Richard McKenzie (Ron Stiegler, Book publisher)  
    Sandy Ward (Senator Slipshod, "He speaks eight languages")  
    Danna Hansen (Mrs. Slipshod, "He's very attractive")  
    Mitch Kreindel (Dennis Watson, Gay, "Yes, very")  
  Pallbearers: Richard Seff    
    Terrence Currier    
    Leon Greenberg    
    Austin Hay    
    Mark Hammer    
  [And] Maurice Copeland    

Summary: At the Washington, D.C., residence where he has lived since childhood, Chance, an illiterate, middle-aged gardener, begins the morning with his favorite activity, watching television. As Chance flips through channels in the kitchen, the maid, Louise, appears shaken after discovering that Mr. Jennings, the elderly owner of the house and Chance’s lifelong benefactor, has passed away upstairs. Chance appears unmoved and continues to watch TV. Aware that Chance is extremely simple-minded, having known life only through television, Louise tries to accept his reaction and makes breakfast for him, as usual. After Louise says goodbye, Chance remains at the house and continues to care for the garden, as if nothing will change. Later, attorneys Thomas Franklin and Sally Hayes, arrive to settle the estate and are surprised to find Chance living there, since there is no record of his employment by Mr. Jennings. Although Chance shows them his bedroom, Franklin informs him that without any proof of address or identification, he must vacate the premises. The following day, Chance leaves the house for the first time in his life. Walking through the run-down neighborhood dressed in formal attire and carrying a suitcase, Chance stops a woman to ask for food, but she dismisses him. He also approaches a street gang, wondering if they know of a garden where he can work, but they threaten him with a knife. In response, Chance pulls out his remote control to change the channel, believing that the images around him are like television. That night, while watching himself on the monitor of a storefront display, Chance steps off the curb and is hit on the leg by a limousine. The passenger, Eve Rand, is apologetic and offers help to avoid any unnecessary repercussions. Instead of taking Chance to the hospital, she brings him to her home, which is equipped with a private medical clinic for her ailing, elderly husband, Benjamin “Ben” Rand, one of the country’s most powerful and wealthy financiers. During the drive, Chance chokes on his first alcoholic drink while introducing himself as “Chance, the gardener,” and Eve misunderstands and thinks his name is Chauncey Gardiner. At the Rand estate, the servants are waiting with a wheelchair for Chance, now known as Chauncey, as soon as the limousine arrives. In the guest suite, Dr. Robert Allenby, the private physician on staff, examines Chauncey’s leg and asks if he will be filing a claim against the Rands. When Chauncey says he does not know what a claim looks like, Allenby is amused and suggests that Chauncey stay for a few days while the leg heals. Downstairs at the medical clinic, Chauncey is wheeled in for X-rays and meets Ben, who is dying of a bone marrow disease. During dinner, Chauncey’s peaceful demeanor impresses Ben and Eve. They assume from his tailored appearance that he is cultured and interpret his plain remarks about wanting to work in their garden as a figure of speech from a man who loves nature. At the end of the evening, Eve tells Chauncey that his visit has lifted Ben’s mood. Later at the estate, the President of the United States arrives to seek Ben’s advice about an upcoming speech on the economy. Ben, a “kingmaker” who has considerable influence over the President, whom he calls by his first name, Bobby, brings Chauncey to the private meeting and introduces him as a dear friend. Meanwhile, Allenby searches through Chauncey’s belongings to learn more about him. When the President asks Chauncey his opinion on stimulating financial growth, Chauncey talks simply about the changing seasons of a garden. Applauding, Ben reads the comments as wisdom about the fluctuating economy. As the President leaves, he asks his staff to compile a profile on Chauncey Gardiner and later, in a nationally televised address, the President calls Chauncey an “intuitive man” and uses the garden analogy to introduce an economic strategy. As Ben’s condition worsens, Eve tells Chauncey that his presence is a comfort, but Allenby appears more perplexed than enthralled with the new visitor. Immediately after the speech, The Washington Post telephones Chauncey for comments, and the producers from The Gary Burns Show want him to appear that evening as a replacement guest for the Vice-President. Meanwhile, both the White House staff and the researcher at The Washington Post are baffled that there is no background information on Chauncey. On the talk show, host Gary Burns introduces Chauncey as a Presidential advisor and questions him about current politics and economic policy. As Chauncey answers in simple sentences and speaks about the health of a garden, the audience applauds what they perceive as a compelling metaphor. From the limousine, Chauncey watches the telecast of his appearance, which attracts a record number of viewers, including the President. After recognizing Chauncey as the so-called gardener from the Jennings’s house, attorneys Franklin and Hayes ponder whether he is part of a government conspiracy, while Louise the maid is shocked to see the illiterate Chance “with no brains at all” on national television. After Ben tells Eve that he approves of her romantic interest in Chauncey, he asks Chauncey to escort his wife to a formal dinner for the Soviet ambassador. When they arrive, Chauncey tells the press gathered outside that he does not read newspapers, but likes to watch television. The reporters are impressed by his honesty. During the party, Chauncey sits next to Vladimir Skrapinov, the Soviet ambassador, who speaks to him in Russian, convinced that he understands the language. Chauncey is also approached about a book contract. When he says that he cannot write or read, the publisher assumes Chauncey is being facetious and not sincere about his illiteracy. Meanwhile, Allenby meets with Franklin, whose business card he found in Chauncey’s belongings, and learns that Chauncey introduced himself to the attorneys as a gardener named Chance. Still unable to create a profile on Chauncey, the President summons representatives of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a late-night meeting at The White House to assess whether his files were destroyed. At the estate, Ben confides to Allenby that Chauncey has put his mind at ease, making the process of dying easier. Therefore, Allenby decides not to share his information about Chauncey. The next morning, Ben refuses any more injections, and on his deathbed, he asks Chauncey to look after Eve. After Ben passes away, Allenby realizes that Chauncey loves Eve and that he is a real gardener, as he always claimed, and not part of some conspiracy. At the funeral, Chauncey wanders off during the President’s eulogy and walks through the woods of the estate. As Ben’s associates act as pallbearers and carry the coffin toward the crypt, they whisper about whom they will support in the upcoming Presidential election and conclude that Chauncey, not burdened by a past history or controversy, would make an ideal choice. 

Production Company: Lorimar Film- und Fernsehproduktion GmbH  
  Northstar International  
Production Text: Lorimar Presents
A Northstar International Picture
An Andrew Braunsberg Production
A Hal Ashby Film
Made in Association With CIP - Europäische Treuhand AG, Germany
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp. (Transamerica Corp.)
Director: Hal Ashby (Dir)
  Charles B. Mulvehill (Prod mgr)
  David S. Hamburger (1st asst dir)
  Toby Lovallo (2nd asst dir)
  Don Mischer ("Gary Burns Show" video segment dir)
Producer: Andrew Braunsberg (Prod)
  Charles B. Mulvehill (Assoc prod)
  Jack Schwartzman (Exec prod)
Writer: Jerzy Kosinski (Scr)
Photography: Caleb Deschanel (Dir of photog)
  Gary Holt (Gaffer)
  Clyde Hart (Key grip)
  Nick McLean (Cam op)
  Craig Denault (1st asst cam)
  Kenneth Nishino (2d asst cam)
  Location Video Co. (Video playback by)
  Louis Mahler (Video playback by)
  Peter Martinez (Video playback by)
  Harry C. Howard (Video eng)
  Sidney Baldwin (Still photog)
  Dianne Schroeder (Spec photog)
Art Direction: Michael Haller (Prod des)
  James Schoppe (Art dir)
Film Editor: Don Zimmerman (Ed)
  Mark Warner (Asst ed)
  Rebecca Einfeld (Apprentice film ed)
  Mireille Machu (Ed consultant)
Set Decoration: Robert Benton (Set dec)
  Ray Mercer, Jr. (Prop master)
  Arthur Shippee, Jr. (Asst prop master)
  Richard Reseigne (Const coord)
Costumes: May Routh (Cost des)
  Anthony Faso (Men`s ward)
  Suzanne Grace (Women's ward)
Music: Johnny Mandel (Mus)
  Jim Henrikson (Mus ed)
Sound: Jeff Wexler (Prod sd mixer)
  Donald O. Mitchell (Rerec mixer)
  Rick Kline (Rerec mixer)
  Bill Nicholson (Rerec mixer)
  Don Coufal (Boom op, And then some)
  Frank Warner (Supv sd eff ed)
  Norval D. Crutcher (Sd eff ed staff)
  Gary S. Gerlich (Sd eff ed staff)
  Samuel C. Crutcher (Sd eff ed staff)
  Victoria Martin (Sd eff ed staff)
Special Effects: Don Hansard (Process)
  Pablo Ferro (Titles des )
  Pacific Title (Titles and opticals)
Make Up: Charles Schram (Peter Sellers' makeup)
  Vivienne Walker (Peter Sellers' hairstylist)
  Frank Westmore (Shirley MacLaine's makeup)
  Edie Panda (Shirley MacLaine's hairstylist)
Production Misc: Lynn Stalmaster (Casting)
  Dianne Schroeder (Video res and selection of all "on TV" seq)
  Teresa Stokovic (Prod office coord)
  Kenneth Ryan (Accountant)
  David Welch (Extras casting)
  Charles Clapsaddle (Prod asst)
  Michael Flowers (Prod asst)
  Gregory Palmer (Prod asst)
  Edle Bakke (Scr supv)
  Loretta Lorden (Secy to the dir)
  Spencer Quinn (Loc mgr)
  Michael Jeffery (Peter Sellers' asst)
  Jerry Molen (Transportation coord)
  Michael McDuffee (Asst transportation coord)
  Beverly Walker (Unit pub)
Color Personnel: Ron Lambert (Col timer)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: Germany (West) and United States
Language: English

Music: "Also Sprach Zarathustra," music by Richard Strauss, arranged and performed by Eumir Deodato, courtesy of CTI Records.
Composer: Richard Strauss
Source Text: Based on the novel Being There by Jerzy Kosinski (New York, 1971).
Authors: Jerzy Kosinski

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Lorimar Film- und Fernsehproduktion, G.m.b.H. 16/7/1980 dd/mm/yyyy PA73699

PCA NO: 25878
Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Color by Metrocolor®
  Lenses/Prints: Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®; Prints by Technicolor®

Genre: Comedy-drama
Subjects (Major): Friendship
  Mentally handicapped persons
  Mistaken identity
Subjects (Minor): Aged men
  Capitalists and financiers
  High society
  Incurable diseases
  Media frenzy
  Medical clinics
  Television programs
  United States. Presidents
  Washington (D.C.)

Note: End credits include the following acknowledgement, “The producers of this film wish to thank the Biltmore House and Gardens, Asheville, North Carolina, for their cooperation during location shooting.”
       The print viewed includes out-takes from Peter Sellers’ performance as “Chance,” which appear as the end credits scroll. During the scene in the private medical clinic when Chance’s leg is being examined, Sellers continues to break into laughter, along with the film crew, as he tries to speak his dialogue about “the message for Rafael.” Sellers protested when the filmmakers inserted this footage in a final cut of the film, as reported by a 28 May 1980 Var news item. Subsequently, the production company, Lorimar Productions, Inc., decided to pull this version from the 1980 Cannes Film Festival where the film was screening in competition, and from foreign distribution markets and substituted a “plain” sequence over the end credits. In an 8 Sep 1980 NYT article, critic Vincent Canby wrote that the out-take gimmick cheapened one of the most significant performances of Sellers’ career.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Peter Sellers (1925-1980) had been interested in playing the role of Chance since the publication of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel Being There in 1971. As recalled by Kosinski in a 23 Dec 1979 NYT article, Sellers sent him a message that read, “‘Available my garden or outside it. C. Gardiner,’” and the actor would often pretend to be Chance in public. When Kosinski learned that original screenplays resembling the novel were being commissioned, he decided to sell the screen rights on the condition of Sellers’ involvement, marking the first time one of his books had been adapted. After producer Andrew Braunsberg, an acquaintance of Kosinski, purchased the rights in 1978, the project got underway.
       As early as 1973, Sellers introduced the book to director Hal Ashby (1929-1988), whose film Harold and Maude (1971, see entry) he particularly admired. Ashby helped bring the project to Lorimar. As reported in an 8 May 1978 HR article, Being There represented the initial film in a multi-picture contract that Ashby had recently signed with Lorimar and producer Jack Schwartzman’s JS Productions. A 25 Jun 1978 NYT article mentioned that the planned budget was $6 million.
       Kosinski noted in an interview in the 14 Feb 1979 NYT that his screenplay adaptation was inspired by, rather than based on his novel. During production, the writing credit was shared between Jerzy Kosinski and Robert C. Jones, according to an article in the 21 Apr 1980 New West. Ashby hired Jones, who received an Academy Award for the original screenplay of Ashby’s film, Coming Home (1978, see entry), to rewrite Kosinski’s drafts, which he considered “‘too heavy-handed.’” According to Ashby, Jones’s contribution resulted in a shooting script considerably different than Kosinski’s version, and Ashby was displeased when a ruling by the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) awarded sole credit to Kosinski.
       In preparing for the role, the crucial aspect for Sellers was the sound of Chance’s voice. He described the accent in production notes as “very clear enunciation, slightly American, with perhaps a little Stan Laurel mixed in.”
       A item in the 30 Apr 1979 HR mentioned that Laurence Olivier declined the role of “Benjamin Rand.”
       The production began filming in Los Angeles, CA, Jan 1979, as reported in a 21 Jan 1979 HR brief. The greenhouse and garden of Chance’s original residence was constructed at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, while the house was shot on location at the Pasadena Historical Society in Pasadena, CA. Filming continued in Washington, D.C., and in Asheville, NC, at The Biltmore House and Gardens, the 1895 estate of George W. Vanderbilt, which functioned as the interior and exterior of the Rand mansion. The filmmakers spent the majority of the shooting schedule, four to five weeks, at the 10,000-acre estate and in the process brought over one million dollars to the local economy of Asheville, as noted in a 20 Feb 1979 HR news item. The décor of the chateau-like home, including the library, banquet hall and artwork, required little modification for filming purposes, with the exception of adding scenery for the private medical clinic and the pyramid crypt. The film crew was able to utilize other areas of the house and grounds for production offices, dressing rooms and construction sites.
       At the 52nd Annual Academy Awards, Melvyn Douglas (1901-1981) received the Oscar for Actor in a Supporting Role and Peter Sellers was nominated for Actor in a Leading Role. Their performances were also recognized at the Golden Globes. Sellers received the award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Comedy Or Musical, and Douglas received Best Performance by an Actor In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture. The Golden Globes nominated the film in four other categories: Best Motion Picture-Comedy Or Musical, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Comedy Or Musical for Shirley MacLaine, Best Director-Motion Picture and Best Screenplay-Motion Picture. The film also showed in competition at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival.
       The film was ranked 26th on the AFI’s 2000 list, 100 Years...100 Laughs.
       Being There was Peter Sellers’ last film released prior to his death on 24 Jul 1980. His final film, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (see entry), opened Aug 1980. In assessing his career, a 24 Jul 1980 LAT obituary and a 3 Aug 1980 NYT article noted that Sellers considered the role of Chance to be his greatest ambition and achievement in the cinema.
       A 30 Jul 2004 DV article reported that producer David Permut was planning a Broadway play based on Being There. Although Kosinski’s widow, Kiki Kosinski, had granted rights for a stage adaptation, she was firmly against any film remakes. No further information was available in the library files regarding the outcome of the project. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Daily Variety   30 Jul 2004   p. 1, 17.
Hollywood Reporter   8 May 1978.   
Hollywood Reporter   21 Jan 1979.   
Hollywood Reporter   20 Feb 1979.   
Hollywood Reporter   30 Apr 1979.   
Hollywood Reporter   17 Dec 1979   p. 3.
Los Angeles Times   20 Dec 1979   p. 36.
Los Angeles Times   24 Jul 1980   Section B, p. 1, 9, 11.
New West   21 Apr 1980   p. 7.
New York Times   25 Jun 1978   p. 39.
New York Times   14 Feb 1979   Section C, p. 18.
New York Times   20 Dec 1979   p. 20.
New York Times   23 Dec 1979   Section D, p. 1, 19.
New York Times   3 Aug 1980   Section D, p. 17.
New York Times   8 Sep 1980   Section C, p. 13.
Variety   19 Dec 1979   p. 19.
Variety   28 May 1980.   

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