Argo: The Story Behind This Real Life Suspense Plot Line

Ben Affleck’s tense political thriller Argo triumphed at the Oscars this year, and went home with three of the coveted gold statues including one for Best Picture.  The movie has been widely acclaimed, and grossed almost $20 million in its opening weekend.  Despite its huge commercial success, director Ben Affleck has been criticised for his portrayal of the 1979 hostage crisis, and accused of bending the truth in order to create a more dramatic storyline. So what did actually happen in Tehran after the invasion of the American embassy, and why has it been kept a secret from the public for so long?

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On the morning of November 4th 1979, embassy workers arrived to work amidst a sea of chanting protestors who were expressing their anger at America’s support of the recently ousted Shah.  The Iranian revolution was by now in full swing, and relations between America and Iran were at an all-time low.  As the protest outside gained momentum, embassy workers soon found themselves surrounded as the protestors scaled the walls and forced their way into the building.  On this day only twelve Americans were present at the embassy, and a handful of local Iranian workers.  Terrified of what might happen to them if captured by the protestors, they decided to sneak out of the compound through a side door in groups of six, and head for the British Embassy.

It is at this point where the movie and the actual version of events part ways. The movie sees the six Americans seek shelter at the home of Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor, and spend the remainder of their ordeal in his home awaiting rescue.  According to the Americans themselves, they found shelter at the home of Robert Anders, a senior officer in the visa department who had fled the embassy with them.  They then hid in different abandoned American homes, before finally making contacting with the Canadian embassy.  The group was then split and given sanctuary in the homes of Ken Taylor, and Canadian Embassy employee John Sheardown.  The British Embassy also claims to have housed the Americans for one night during their escape, but this has never been proven.

The nail-biting end scene where the Americans are almost discovered by the absence of their airport arrival papers simply did not happen.   Neither did the chase scene on the tarmac after the Iranians supposedly pieced together shredded documents to obtain a photo of one of the Americans.  In reality, the Americans passed smoothly through the airport, safe in the knowledge that the Iranian workers rarely checked for matching arrival and departure papers. Their plane tickets were actually purchased by the Canadians beforehand, and they even underwent vocal coaching by the Canadians to work on their accents.

What is accurate is that the CIA had a strong involvement in the escape, and did send in agent Antonio Mendes played by Affleck.  The wacky sounding cover story of the Americans scouting for a science fiction movie named Argo is accurate, and managed to fool not just the Iranians but half of Hollywood in the process.  The CIA’s involvement was not revealed until 1997 so as not to further increase the tension between Iran and the United States.  There is also speculation that it was kept a secret in case there was a need to pull off a similar operation in the future.  The story of Argo is almost too crazy to be true, but it did in fact happen.  It also made a thrilling, albeit slightly inaccurate, Oscar winning movie.

Idania is a town historian. She enjoys hunting down historical facts and then writing about what she finds to post on the Web. Visit www.cabletvadvisor.com for more ideas and information.