Ask almost any American adult about the Iran hostage crisis, and you'll get the outlines of the well-known story: militants storming the American embassy in Tehran in 1979 and holding dozens of Americans hostage for 444 days.
Now, in "Argo," CIA disguise master Antonio Mendez tells a lesser-known story about the crisis. In the confusing and chaotic takeover, six Americans escaped.
For almost three months, the group hid out in Iran, sheltered by the Canadian government. But the situation grew increasingly precarious. Ultimately, the CIA sent two operatives into the country to rescue the group. As cover, the CIA concocted an elaborate back story involving a Hollywood film.
Mendez developed a plan to disguise the Americans as a Hollywood group scouting locations for a fake science-fiction film called "Argo." Mendez didn't do anything halfway. He obtained a script, advertised the film, printed business cards, and rented and staffed a Hollywood office in case anyone in Iran checked up on the story. Then, posing as the film's producer, he slipped into Tehran, helped transform the embassy workers into Hollywood types and spirited the Americans on a plane to Switzerland.
For years, however, the full story of the CIA's involvement was a secret. That changed in 1997, the 50th anniversary of the CIA. Mendez was honored by the agency that year, and he related the "Argo" story for newsman Dan Rather.
Now, in what is an ironic twist, the fake movie caper is becoming the plot of a real Hollywood film. It's set for release Oct. 12, and Ben Affleck directs and stars as Mendez.
Readers who want the un-Hollywood version will find that besides being a talented spy, Mendez is also a gifted storyteller. The Maryland resident has also written previously about his clandestine work in "The Master of Disguise" and "Spy Dust." His latest book is a page turner despite the fact readers know from the beginning how the story will end. Still, keeping the biographies and personalities of the six escapees straight isn't easy. Maybe seeing the movie first would help.