Oscar-worthy Argo a thrilling film about a CIA scam

"ARGO" from Warner Bros.

Argo is a real movie about a fake movie created by a CIA scam. And I was in on it. I didn’t know about the ruse, but I wrote a story about the fake movie Argo and helped the international deception.

Now it has come to light in the Oscar-worthy true movie Argo, starring Ben Affleck, who also directed the thrilling movie laced with a lot of Hollywood humor.

When I sat at the editor’s desk at The Hollywood Reporter many decades ago, I wrote about the movie called Argo for the January 25, 1980 issue. I was approached by reps from the studio, and two noted Hollywood makeup artists who were going to produce a science fiction fantasy Star Wars type movie called Argo. Certainly with those credentials there was a legitimate story behind it.

The Studio Six production had the involvement of producer Robert Sidell, in the business for more than 20 years, and John Chambers, an Oscar winner for his makeup work on Planet of the Apes. So I got quotes from Sidell, who talked about the project, noting 100% of the filming was to be done overseas, backed entirely by foreign finacing.

Sidell was quoted as saying that some shooting would be done in the south of France, then move to the Mideast “depending on what it’s like politically.” Everything seemed reputable and it was a good article with all the details of the production. But more than three decades later I discovered I was hoodwinked.

The real story behind Affleck’s political thriller Argo has become the buzz throughout Hollywood. It is based on a subterfuge that was referred to as “the best bad idea we have” in the movie.

The CIA tried to rescue six Americans who were hidden at the home of the Canadian ambassador in Tehran during the height of the Iranian hostage crisis. The idea was to have CIA agent Tony Mendez go to Iran posing as a Canadian filmmaker scouting locations for the film Argo, and leave with the six Americans who would have cover stories as members of his production team.

It’s part of history now, and the Canadian government and heroic ambassador deserve credit for making it work.

Ben Affleck stars as Mendez. Playing his CIA boss is Bryan Cranston, and the Breaking Bad star also deserves Oscar attention in the supporting category. Victor Garber plays the ambassador, plus Alan Arkin and John Goodman played the producers Sidell and Chambers who pulled the great con on me.


Frank Barron is the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, having served twice in that capacity. In between, he was West Coast news director for Billboard Publications, supervising their five magazines. Barron also created the western TV series “The Man From Blackhawk” for the ABC network. For more than three decades he and writer-wife Margie Barron have covered Hollywood for Production Update magazine, and they currently contribute to numerous publications. Frank started in showbiz as publicity director for the KHJ radio and television station. Before moving to California, he was a sports editor in New Jersey.

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