The plane carrying the 52 American hostages to freedom had no sooner touched down in Algiers Tuesday night before Yankee entrepreneurship swung into action.
Already, several hostage families have been contacted by literary agents eager to bid for exclusive rights to the prisoners' stories. Ten-dollar hostage T-shirts are being hawked in Washington, several "quickie" books are already being printed, and yesterday CBS announced plans for a two-hour, made-for-TV movie, "The Canadian Connection."
The film, due to start production in March, will dramatize the escape of six American hostages who were smuggled out by Iran by Canadian diplomats last year.
Like the raid on Entebbe and the Jonestown massacre, the Iranian hostage situation appears destined to be marketed down to the last dramatic drop.
"We live in a society where a lot of things are commercially exploited," said New York literary agent Morton Janklow. Although he would not discuss the details, Janklow said he met Wednesday with Barbara Rosen, the wife of hostage Barry Rosen, to discuss a book deal.
"Am I happy that people make John Lennon T-shirts? No," said Janklow. "Do I expect it to ever stop? Of course not. Who knows, there might be hostage dolls. But I don't make any moral judgments about it."
Janklow added that commercial exploitation is not unique to modern America.
"When Ramses died, I'm sure there was some guy on the river bank selling Ramses buttons," he said.
Jameson Campaigne, president of the Illinois publishing firm Caroline House, said his company plans to have 50,000 copies of "Hostage" on the stands next week. The "quickie" book by authors Bob Wagman and Sheldon Engelmayer will retail for $5.95.
"We did a volcano book last year that sold pretty well," Campaigne said yesterday. "It never hurts to be early.
"I think we're doing a public service by having a historic record," he said.
New York's Rutledge Press will publish "444 Days -- The Story of the American Hostages," by Associated Press writers. The book ($4.95 for paperback, $8.95 for hardback) is expected to be on the stands next Monday.
"Will it sell? I sure hope so," said publisher John Sammis.
New American Library is also set to publish "Embassy," an account of the ordeal by Los Angeles newsman Alex Paen.
The Washington Post, which published an "instant" book on the Guyana massacre, received several inquiries about a hostage book, but decided against it.
Literary agent Irving R. (Swifty) Lazar said yesterday he had learned that wives of hostages Jerry Plotkin, Moorehead Kennedy and Barry Rosen were negotiating book deals.
"The consensus among the major publishing houses," said Lazar, "is that because it was a running story, an instant book won't sell."
Indeed, Janklow said he told Barbara Rosen to do a "thoughtful" book. "I don't think you can write about that in two weeks," he said.
Louisa Kennedy appeared on NBC's "Today Show" yesterday and said that her husband had kept a journal of his experiences, which the Iranians confiscated. She quoted him as saying, "It doesn't matter though, I have it all in my head."
There were reports of other journals kept by hostages that were also confiscated.
"But I don't think there are going to be 52 books on the subject," said Janklow. "There are probably no more than two who can write books."
A Georgetown boutique, Great Impressions, is already selling hostage T-shirts ($10) and hostage iron-on decals ($2) to commemorate the crisis.
The shirt shows an American eagle with the words: "A great day for american history . . . i was in washington d.c. the day the hostages WERE RELEASED."
A spokesman for NBC said yesterday that an eight-month-old project, "The Iranian Crisis," was still in the development stage.
An ABC television spokesman said they had no project planned -- yet.
"It's really too early to tell," said one Hollywood agent. "It might take about three or four more days."