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The Film of the Book: Being There (1979)

Being There Peter Sellers

Author: Jerzy Kosinski
Screenplay: Jerzy Kosinski

It’s rumored that after the 1971 release of Kosinski’s novel, the author received a message from a man claiming to be “Chance the Gardener.”

When he returned the call, he found it had been from Peter Sellers, who said it was his career goal to make the book into a movie and star as the main character.

Sellers finally got his wish (the film was released less than a year before the actor died of a heart attack in London), portraying “Chauncey Gardener,” a slow-witted man who has spent his entire life happily locked away in the back garden of a big-city townhouse.

When his boss dies, Chance, armed only with what he has learned from watching television and working in the garden, is driven out of the only home he’s ever known. For the first time in his life, he’s forced to interact with real people.

This leads him into a serendipitous comedy of errors that endears him to a corporate tycoon, the American public and even a group of politicos who see Chance as their only hope of winning the next presidential election.

Kosinski’s screenplay captures the essence of Chance’s innocence, translating the largely interior character of the novel into a stunning big-screen visualization (with more than a little help from director Hal Ashby). And Sellers’ indelible personification of the gardener (which earned him an Oscar nomination) definitely grows on you.

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