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Maryland's connection to Ben Affleck's 'Argo'

Sculptor Toby Mendez, the man whose bronze statues immortalized Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr. and four other Orioles greats in Camden Yards ceremonies spread over the past six months, has certainly enjoyed his time in the spotlight. But now it’s his dad’s turn.

The exploits of the elder Mendez, Tony, are at the center of the movie “Argo,” about a daring CIA-Canada rescue mission that got six Americans out of Iran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis by convincing authorities they were part of a Canadian film crew. In the movie, which opens in theaters Oct. 12 and already is generating serious Oscar buzz, Tony Mendez is played by Ben Affleck, who also directed.

Read the movie review: Ben Affleck's mission accomplished in "Argo"

A teenager attending Boonsboro High School at the time of the rescue mission, the younger Mendez says his family was aware of what his father did for a living, but not the details of exactly what he was involved in. “We just knew he was going, we didn’t know where,” he says.

That explains why, when the family saw him off at the airport, neither he nor his siblings realized the significance of their dad’s last act before getting on the plane.

“He handed our mom his wedding ring,” Mendez said. “That was the last thing he could give her.”

In 1979, not long after 52 Americans were captured by Iranian militants, six U.S. diplomats found refuge in the Canadian embassy. They remained there until January 1980, when they were smuggled out of the country on the pretext that they were Canadians who had been scouting locations for a horror film, “Argo.”

Toby Mendez said he would not learn the details of what his father did for several years. “It’s not something that we gloat about,” he said, “but we are very proud.”

The younger Mendez, who lives in Frederick and works out of a studio in Washington County, said he and his family – including his father – saw “Argo” last week at its Hollywood premiere. He praised the film without reservation, even while noting that it did stray from the truth on occasion. For one thing , his parents never separated, as they do in the film. For another, there were three younger Mendezes, not the single one played onscreen by Aidan Sussman. (At the family’s request, the son’s name is Ian, for Toby Mendez’s brother, who died two years ago.)

Seeing “Argo,” Toby Mendez said, helped him appreciate his father’s bravery even more.

“Seeing that huge crowd up on the screen, during the demonstrations, and knowing that my father walked through that crowd while he was there,” Toby Mendez said. “At one point, there was this man hanging from a crane, and I remember thinking, ‘This could have been my father’s fate,’ had his mission failed.”

Chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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