52 American hostages, taken captive by Iranian students on 4 November 1979, pose at Wiesbaden Air Force Base (in Germany) after they were released from captivity on 20 January 1981.  Photo online, courtesy U.S. Department of Defense.


As the world focused on the hostage crisis, only a few people knew that six Americans had escaped:

                                                  Bob Anders
                                                  Lee Schatz
                                                 Joe and Kathy Stafford
                                                 Mark and Cora Lijek

Thanks to the help of Canadians in Tehran - especially Ken and Pat Taylor, together with John and Zana Sheardown - the American diplomats had a place to stay hidden until the crisis ended.  Within days, however, the purpose of the hostage-taking had changed. Ayatollah Khomeini had decided to use the situation to further a different objective.

The crisis would not be quickly over.  The Americans-in-hiding needed to leave Iran, but how could that happen?

As weeks became months, both Ken (the Canadian ambassador) and John (the Canadian immigration officer) knew the situation was becoming increasingly unsafe.  The Staffords and Schatz lived with the Sheardowns.  Anders and the Lijeks lived with the Taylors. 

Everyone worried that if Iranian government officials discovered the living arrangements, public executions could take the lives of helpers and hiders.

When surprised CIA officials learned that six diplomats were not among the rest of the hostages, they asked one of the agency's employees - Tony Mendez - to propose an "exfiltration" plan.  With the help of John Chambers (a longtime collaborator and highly respected Hollywood makeup artist), Mendez (known as a "master of disguise") concocted an audacious plan. 

The six diplomats, aided by two "exfil" specialists, would pose as Canadians searching for a movie location in Iran.

The film Mendez decided "to make" was called ARGO, based on the novel Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny.  Pulling together all aspects of a real movie-making venture, Mendez and Chambers:

  • Leased office space
  • Obtained set designs (drawn by Jack Kirby whose characters have grossed billions of dollars in films like The Avengers), and 
  • Began to develop their cover story. 

They even held a launch party at the Brown Derby.

With the help of the Canadian government, Mendez assembled passports for the U.S. diplomats, then made plans to enter Tehran.  With President Carter approving his plan, Mendez hoped to get the six diplomats out of the country on Iran's national election day - the 28th of January, 1980.  He arrived in town - with no back-up plan - shortly before the departure date.

As Mendez explained his idea to the American diplomats, Joe Stafford was skeptical.  How could such an audacious idea actually work? 

Among other reasons, Mendez assured the six that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance - which had to clear any film-making in Iran and whose office opened at 9 AM - would still be closed as the "movie crew" made their way through the Mehrabad-airport checkpoints.

Of course ... that assumed the flight was on time.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 01, 2012

Updated Last Revision: Apr 24, 2019

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"TONY MENDEZ and HIS ARGO PLAN" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 01, 2012. Jan 28, 2020.
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