Monday, September 4, 2017

Josh Dean's "The Taking of K-129"

Josh Dean is a magazine journalist and author based in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Here he dreamcasts an adaptation of his new book, The Taking of K-129: How the CIA Used Howard Hughes to Steal a Russian Sub in the Most Daring Covert Operation in History:
When you do narrative journalism, it’s pretty common for people to say, in reaction to a story, “Hey, that should be a movie.” But I’ve never experienced that to the degree that I have with this project. It is the very definition of truth is stranger the fiction — the true story of how the CIA used Howard Hughes to provide cover for the attempted theft of a nuclear missile submarine, by creating the illusion that the world’s most eccentric mogul was going to mine the ocean floor for rare earth minerals. I’d conservatively estimate that 100% of people who’ve talked to me about it have suggested it be a movie, and I’ve taken to describing it, in Hollywood short-hand, as “James Cameron’s Argo.”

Anyway, the good news is that Hughes doesn’t ever appear on screen, so I don’t really have to cast him. He can be some deep breathing on a phone. The bad news is that it’s a sprawling, epic story that covers 6 years and includes the participation of hundreds of people. Maybe it should be a TV series? But that’s not the challenge here. The book really focuses most on four characters: Curtis Crooke, John Graham, John Paragosky, and Walt Lloyd. The first two are engineers, the second two are spies.

Let’s start with Crooke. I think of him as the 1960s version of a Silicon Valley hotshot. He was a clever engineer with a brash personality who worked for a big company but didn’t really care to abide by traditions. He drove a Ferrari, put his feet up on the desk during meetings and had absolutely no qualms about taking a nap during the workday, with the door open. That sounds like so many actors, but the one who stands out (and is age appropriate) is Robert Downey Jr. He plays smart and funny. He’s very likable. And he’s dashing, which I like to think Curtis was at the time.

John Graham was a brilliant naval engineer. A reformed alcoholic who nearly lost his family in middle-age then went sober, redeemed himself, and helped imagine some of the most spectacular ships ever designed — including the mind-blowing Hughes Glomar Explorer. Graham was a tough boss, but fair. He was highly educated (via MIT) but also an autodidact who did some of his best designing on napkins. He was a loyal husband but loved to flirt with waitresses. And every man who worked for him had tremendous respect. Put some glasses on any number of leading men and it would work, but the guy needs to be slightly intimidating, so I’m going with Ed Harris here. He can command room, but also disarm one when necessary.

Walt Lloyd ran the cover operation. Lloyd was a career CIA man who helped create the model for covert operations in his long-time role within the Agency’s security apparatus. He is sharp, straight-laced, and utterly unflappable, with a fondness for the efficacy of profanity when a point needs to be made. He recruited people to pretend to be mining the ocean without telling them that they were pretending. He commands respect, but not via fear. I met him in his 80s, so it’s hard for me to picture what Walt was like in middle-age, but I think Hollywood would probably cast someone like Tom Hanks here. Hanks feels a little soft to me. I picture a younger Robert Redford. Who is that today? In a pinch, Josh Brolin could probably pull it off.

That leaves John Parangosky, Azorian’s mastermind. This CIA science and technology lifer was a cypher to many people on the program. Most knew him only as JP or Mr P, if they knew him at all. He was a lifelong bachelor with a love for finer things, especially opera and French food, which he ate often, typically alone at one of a couple of Washington DC fine dining restaurants. He wore a uniform - dark suit, dark shoes, white shirt - and slicked back hair. He was thick, but not fat. Man, Philip Seymour Hoffman would have been perfect. I imagine JP to have a slight undercurrent of menace, mostly as a posture, and PSH could project that in spades. Since that’s not an option, I’m really struggling here. Can we put some weight on Leonardo DiCaprio? I guess we can. Okay, it’s Leo!

If you’re wondering (fairly), where are the women? Well, there weren’t any. This was the 60s and 70s, when things like engineering and espionage were almost entirely male dominated. The only women in the book are wives and daughters, plus one (very influential) secretary. I wish that weren’t the case, but I can’t rewrite history either.
Visit Josh Dean's website.

--Marshal Zeringue