The Hollywood Reporter this week published a fascinating essay on the real-life backstory behind Argo, the upcoming film from Ben Affleck. Slated to hit theaters October 12th, Argo recounts the story of a 1979 CIA mission to free six Americans trapped in Iran. The sextet had been among the dozens of Americans taken hostage by the Ayatollah Khomeini, but managed to escape and find refuge at the homes of top Canadian officials. Faced with the task of bringing them home safely, CIA official Tony Mendez (played by Affleck) decided to have them pose as members of a Canadian film crew.
To do this, of course, Mendez needed to create a fake film for the “crew” to work on, so he and other Hollywood insiders launched a promotional campaign for a movie called Argo. Mendez and his team were remarkably diligent about selling their non-existent film, going so far as to take out an trade ad in a 1980 issue of The Hollywood Reporter:
As the 2012 Argo reveals, that trade ad for the 1980 Argo was part of an elaborate — and daring — secret CIA mission to rescue six U.S. State Department officials trapped in Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter included, merely played along with the ruse unwittingly. In fact, the backstory behind the fake Argo is even more byzantine than depicted in the real Argo. But it all boils down to one line that a movie producer played by Alan Arkin delivers in the new film: “If you want to sell a lie, you get the press to sell it for you.”
Read more about the film and its history here.