‘Argo’ gave him a supporting role, but Ken Taylor was a leader in diplomacy
Taylor and the story of his involvement in the rescue of six Americans from Tehran, following the seizure of the U.S embassy in 1979, was the basis for the 2012 Academy Award-winning film Argo.
But that film, directed by Ben Affleck, was criticized for downplaying Taylor’s efforts in helping the embassy staff, whom he harboured at his residence for two-and-a-half months after student supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the American embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, taking 52 other diplomats and other American citizens hostage.
While those hostages were held captive for 444 days, Taylor was key to a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operation to help the six embassy staff who managed to escape the compound get out of Iran.
As seen in the film, CIA agent Antonio Mendez (played by Affleck) spearheaded the creation of a fake Hollywood film company considering making a movie, titled Argo, in Iran. Taylor was portrayed by Canadian actor Victor Garber.
The six stranded Americans would pose as Canadian filmmakers holding Canadian passports, issued with the authorization of then Prime Minister Joe Clark, they would leave the restive Iranian capital on an international flight on Jan. 27, 1980.
WATCH BELOW: The trailer for Argo
“The activity level of the Canadian diplomats is at a more passive level [in the film] than was actually the case in reality,” Taylor told Global News correspondent Eric Sorensen in 2012.
But, Taylor didn’t seem to mind that Argo was told from an American’s point of view and even attended gala screenings of the film.
“It’s a thrilling movie. Even though you know the end, you’re waiting on the edge of your seat,” he said in another interview with Global News. “In fact, Pat, my wife, and I, we watched the movie for the first time at a screening in Los Angeles and Pat looked at me and said, ‘Did we really get out safely?’ halfway through the movie.”
He added it wasn’t entirely unexpected that the movie was told through American eyes.
“If another movie was made with a Canadian focus, it would focus on Ottawa rather than Washington.”
Canadian director Drew Taylor (no relation) worked with the former ambassador on a 2013 documentary called Our Man in Tehran.
WATCH BELOW: The trailer for Our Man in Tehran
“We did a whole documentary on it and didn’t even get everything that we would have wanted to cover in it into an hour-and-a-half,” Drew Taylor told Global News after learning of his friend’s death. “He did a lot of amazing things, along with a lot of other people, including his wife, Pat.”
The Toronto-based director said he was honoured to be able to tell the accurate account of Taylor’s actions.
“It was just a natural impulse for him,” he said. “Risking his life was not even a thought. It literally came down to it was the right thing to do and he did it.”
Taylor was awarded the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal and was inducted as an officer of the Order of Canada. But Drew Taylor described his friend as “humble” about his actions and their historic impact.
“I think the effects of what Canadians did and what Ken led the charge for in Iran will be around for a long, long time,” Drew Taylor said. “Whether people [elsewhere] know the story of what Ken did specifically or not, part of their sentiments on how they feel about Canadians is deeply rooted in actions that he and others have made throughout Canadian history.”
WATCH: Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson shares memories of his colleague Ken Taylor, former Canadian ambassador to Iran, and his impact on the world.
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