Severna Park resident Lee Schatz said he was “caught up by the tension” in the movie Argo—but he didn’t need the dramatic tension offered by a Hollywood film. He lived it. He survived it.
During the 1979 Iranian crisis, Schatz who served as an agricultural attaché, was one of six American diplomats hiding in the homes of Canadian diplomats in Tehran after fleeing the embassy as it was occupied by Iran.
“I was one of the six people the CIA worked together with to get out of Iran in 1980 after the hostage crisis began in late 1979,” Schatz said.
The details of the rescue are now resurfacing thanks to Argo. The thriller recounts the details of freeing of six fugitive American diplomatic personnel out of Iran. The plan to rescue them involved the making of a fake movie.
“I think the movie does a great job of capturing the events by starting with a little bit of history to get a context because there are a lot of people who see this movie who have no idea why we have this long standing political problem with Iran,” Schatz said.
Schatz, who is still an agricultural attaché living in Severna Park, visits The Big Bean frequently. In fact, the local coffee shop recently named a coffee "Ben's Blend," after Ben Affleck, who stars in the film that tells Schatz' story.
In an interview with CBS Schatz discusses his role in freeing the hostages. Schatz was given the identity of Henry W. Collins, a cameraman.
During the interview with CBS, Schatz talks about heading to the airport with his new identity and clearing customs. The person checking him asked if he was the person pictured in the photo—he told CBS that’s when it got serious.
“People who choose to serve overseas know there are contentions there and risks for that work,” Schatz said. “It was a very interesting time in Iran’s history and for those of us who volunteered to serve there. There had been a taking of the embassy in the spring and when that occurred again in November no one thought it would last anything but hours or days—let alone over a year.”
Schatz sees the film Argo as an opportunity for the public to learn more about Iran and the relationship the U.S. has with them. He said there are lots of people who don’t know the political background with Iran and he thinks Argo does a good job of explaining that.
“I hope people have some piece of history we can make a little more real for them,” Schatz said. “When people read about the confrontation we now have with Iran on nuclear issues I think they will have a little more context to realize there are things in our history with this country that make it hard to talk to each other rather than at each other.”