Being There (1979): Hal Ashby Directs Peter Sellers in Oscar-Nominated Performance

Hal Ashby’s satirical fable, “Being There,” from the screenplay and novella by Jerzy Kosinski, stars Peter Sellers as a new type of moron, a man who rises to the top of the social hierarchy with his supposedly natural intelligence and instinctive resourcefulness. Remarkably, Sellers gives an astoundingly simple performance that does not rely on make-up, accents, mannerisms, or impersonation.
Sellers’ Chance Gardiner is a sublime idiot, a simple-witted fool whose knowledge of life comes entirely from watching TV. Circumstances introduce him to one of Washington’s powerbrokers, Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas), who mistakes his naivete for profundity, thus making him a desirable candidate for office.
Shirley MacLaine plays Benjamin’s wife, Eve Rand, a sexually frustrated femme, who after making fun of Chance falls hard for him; at the time, some viewers found her masturbation scene embarrassing to watch.
Melvyn Douglas won a second Supporting Actor Oscar for his part; the first was for playing Paul Newman’s father in “Hud,” in 1963.
With a running time of over two hours, the saga is deliberately paced, but the experience is rewarding as here is a satire that defies Hollywood trends and fashions, and can’t be compared to any other comedy.
Oscar Nominations: 2
Actor: Peter Sellers
Supporting Actor: Melvyn Douglas
Oscar Awards: 1
Supporting Actor
Oscar Context
The winner of the Best Actor Oscar was Dustin Hoffman for “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” which swept most of the Oscars that year.
Lorimar (UA release)