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Rescuer, rescuee connect at Mendez studio open house

November 10, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Antonio Mendez, center, signs copies of his latest book Argo, a companion to the movie of the same name starring Ben Affleck, who portrays Mendez in the film. The Mendez family art studio, Pleasant Valley Studios, hosted a Fall Art Show Saturday in Knoxville. The show continues on Sunday.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

KNOXVILLE, Md. — Robert Anders of Silver Spring, Md., still has the business card from when he was someone else 32 years ago — Robert L. Baker, production manager, Studio Six Productions of Los Angeles.

It was part of a ruse created by then-CIA agent Tony Mendez.

Through the new movie “Argo,” the public is learning about the CIA’s successful 1980 rescue of six Americans — including Anders — in Iran, three months after the U.S. embassy was overrun. Another 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.

The fake story Mendez helped create was that the six Americans worked for a Canadian film company and were filming “Argo,” a science-fiction movie widely — and falsely — advertised in Hollywood trade publications as a cover.

Mendez — who hosted friends, family and fans Saturday at his Pleasant Valley Studio in southern Washington County — knows the story well, firsthand. Baker, who visited the studio Saturday, lived it, too.

The real “Argo,” starring Ben Affleck as Mendez, is getting good reviews and has been mentioned as an Oscar contender.

“It turns out that Hollywood likes very much to see themselves depicted as people helping to save the world ...” said Jonna Mendez, Tony’s wife, also retired from the CIA. “It doesn’t happen often. It also doesn’t happen often for the CIA .... Everybody wants it to succeed.”

Jonna Mendez is a photographer. Tony Mendez paints. Toby Mendez, who is Tony’s son and Jonna’s stepson, is a sculptor.

The family opens its studio and serves guests twice a year. With the popularity of “Argo,” more people than usual showed up on Saturday.

Barbara Seibert of Williamsport — whose niece, Cathy, is Toby’s longtime significant other — said she read “The Master of Disguise,” which Tony wrote, and “Spy Dust,” which Tony and Jonna wrote.

But after seeing “Argo,” she got a fuller dramatic sense of the Iran rescue, she said.

Julie Dougherty drove down from Rochester, N.Y., for the weekend with her mother, Marjorie Dougherty, and her cousin, Nelson Hahn. They combined a visit to the studio with some sightseeing.

Julie Dougherty said her father and sister worked with Tony Mendez at the CIA in the 1980s.

“I thought Ben Affleck was perfect,” she said of the portrayal.

Tony Mendez spent much of the afternoon signing copies of his new book, “Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History.”

Anders, an 87-year-old World War II veteran, said he had worked at the embassy for about seven months before it was overrun.

One group of Americans got out, but was captured. His group got free and was taken in by Canadian officials in Iran.

Anders said Mendez’s account of the rescue, which was carried out smoothly, is accurate, while Hollywood massaged the truth a bit.

“It’s not a documentary,” he said. “I mean, they’re telling a good story and they’ve made it even better than the real thing, which is OK.”

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