The Real Story Behind 'Argo' and the Steven Spielberg Connection

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Warner Bros., Getty Images

If you rushed out to theaters to see 'Argo' last weekend (wise choice, friends), you may be curious to know more about the real-life story that inspired Ben Affleck's latest and the man Affleck portrayed in the film. We've got some details for you, but we also found something even more interesting -- did you know that Steven Spielberg has a connection to the true story?

Antonio J. Mendez, the CIA operative responsible for orchestrating the 'Argo' mission, posted this story on the CIA's website a couple of years ago, detailing how his crazy heroic plan was a success. For those unfamiliar: six US State Department workers in Iran came under attack at the embassy and escaped, hiding out with the Canadian ambassador. A mission to save the six was incredibly difficult thanks to the increased security in Iran at the time and the distrust of Americans for housing the nation's former leader.

So Mendez had a really nutty idea to put together a fake movie studio and pretend that he was in Iran on a location scout for a science-fiction movie (a la 'Star Wars'). He would then meet with the Americans, forge their passports, and act as though they were the (Canadian) film crew and had entered the country with him. And it actually worked, using a real sci-fi script for a film called 'Argo,' Mendez even went so far as to have storyboards drawn up with the help of comic book legend Jack Kirby.

In his account, Mendez discusses the quick set-up of a faux film studio:

I made a quick visit to California. I brought along $10,000 in cash, the first of several black-bag deliveries of funds to set up our motion picture company. I arrived on Friday night and met with Jerome and one of his associates in a suite of production offices they had reserved for our purposes on the old Columbia Studio lot in Hollywood. I had invited a CIA contracts officer to the meeting to act as witness to the cash delivery and to follow up as bagman and auditor for the run of the operation. It would take two years to clear all accounts on these matters.

Our production company, "Studio Six Productions," was created in four days, including a weekend, in mid-January. Our offices had previously been occupied by Michael Douglas, who had just completed producing The China Syndrome.

And even though it was a fake studio, thanks to the planted publicity in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, Studio Six started receiving scripts, including one from a highly-acclaimed director:

An ironic coda: by the time Studio Six folded several weeks after the rescue, we had received 26 scripts, including some potential moneymakers. One was from Steven Spielberg.

Could the script that they received from Spielberg have been 'E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial'? It's likely, considering that this took place between 1979 and 1980, the studio was looking at legitimate sci-fi scripts for their cover story, and 'E.T.' was released in 1981. Can you imagine if Mendez had used 'E.T.' as a cover? Spielberg might have never had the chance to actually make the film!

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