Not Without My Daughter True Story Betty, Mahtob Mahmoody
Sayed Bozorg Mahmoody real story

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Not Without My Daughter (1991)
Starring Sally Field, Alfred Molina, Sheila Rosenthal
based on the book "Not Without My Daughter" by Betty Mahmoody
Reel Face: Real Face:
Sally Field Not Without My Daughter movie Sally Field

November 6, 1946
Birthplace: Pasadena, California, USA
real Betty Mahmoody Betty Mahmoody
June 9, 1945
Birthplace: Alma, Michigan, USA
Alfred Molina Not Without My Daughter Alfred Molina

May 24, 1953
Birthplace: London, England, UK
real Sayyed Bozorg Mahmoody Sayyed Bozorg 'Moody' Mahmoody
Birthplace: Shushtar, Iran Death: August 23, 2009, Tehran, Iran
(kidney failure)
Sheila Rosenthal as Mahtob Mahmoody Sheila Rosenthal
real Mahtob Mahmoody Mahtob Maryam Mahmoody
September 4, 1979
Birthplace: Houston, Texas, USA

There was so much snow on the route we took even drug smugglers didn’t use that route. -Mahtob Mahmoody (The Culpeper Star Exponent, November 2, 2008)

Questioning the Story:

Did the Mahmoody family really have a house on the water in Alpena, Michigan?
Betty Mahmoody daughter Mahtob
The real Mahtob
Mahmoody in the
USA, circa 1984.
Although they had lived on Thunder Bay River, this was not their home when they departed for Iran. At the time, they were living in Detroit. In April 1982, Sayyed Bozorg ‘Moody’ Mahmoody had been suspended from Alpena General Hospital pending the investigation of the death of a three-year-old boy, who had died during an elective surgery for which Moody was the anesthesiologist. While trying to wait out the investigation, the family ran out of money and was forced to sell the house. Moody took a job at the Fourteenth Street Clinic in Detroit where he had worked in the past. Eventually, Betty and the children (in addition to Mahtob, Betty had two sons named Joe and John from a previous marriage) moved out there to be with him. - Not Without My Daughter book

Was Betty’s dad really ill?
Yes. The Not Without My Daughter true story reveals that her father, Harold Lover, had colon cancer. He died on August 3, 1986, about six months after Betty and Mahtob Mahmoody arrived back in America. - NWMD book

Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi
Shah of Iran
What was the state of Iran at that time?
Many Iranians were unhappy under Emperor Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi because of his allegiance to the West during the Cold War and his extravagant lifestyle and political reforms, including women’s voting rights. Religious leaders and followers believed that the Shah was overstepping his constitutional boundaries and was being subservient to the United States. Many of his actions were considered anti-Islamic and the cause of the loss of Iranian traditions. His policies were also blamed for the widening gap between the rich and the poor. In the late 1970s, Islamic leaders rallied for change to get rid of the westernization and get back to their religious ideals, which resulted in the beginning of the Iranian revolution. In January of
Ayatollah Rouhollah Mousavi Khomeini
Ayatollah Khomeini
1979, the Shah was exiled to Egypt and Ayatollah Rouhollah Mousavi Khomeini, who had formerly been exiled by the Shah, was welcomed back by hoards of followers. Shah supporters were eliminated and the new Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran was implemented. This included the strict rules regarding women’s attire, among other things. The Iranian revolution resulted in an attack on the American Embassy and Americans were held hostage in a few separate incidences. In 1980, Iraq decided to try to take advantage of the changes and invade Iran, but in 1982 Iran regained its losses. The two countries agreed to a ceasefire on August 20, 1988. - Iran Chamber Society

Were Moody, Mahtob and Betty really greeted by so many family members upon arrival in Tehran?
Yes. According to the real story told by Betty Mahmoody today, over a hundred people greeted Moody and his family after they exited the airport in Tehran. Like in the movie, they were presented with tons of flowers and the cars were adorned with flowers as well. - Not Without My Daughter book

Was Betty given a gift from Ameh Bozorg upon arrival?
Yes. She was given a long coat called a montoe and a long heavy scarf called a roosarie. They were required attire in order for women to go outside in Iran. - NWMD book

Was an animal sacrificed in their honor?
Yes. Moody’s family bought a sheep to have it slaughtered and distributed to the poor, however, it was not killed soon enough for Betty, Mahtob and Moody to cross over it before entering the house. They went back outside a little while later to complete the tradition of crossing over it to be respectful. Since this ritual frightened Betty Mahmoody's daughter Mahtob, she carried her over instead. - NWMD book

Did Betty Mahmoody really get stopped by the pasdar for showing her hair in public?
Yes. The real Betty Mahmoody was actually addressed by the pasdar (a patrol group that monitors women’s attire) three times while in Tehran, although none were in the first two weeks of their stay. The first time she was pulled aside was because her roosarie (large head scarf) was not covering the hair on her forehead. Her second infraction was because her socks were wrinkled and her third was because her sock was falling down, which exposed a small portion of her knee from under her coat. - NWMD book

Was Betty really told that the passports needed to be approved three days prior to leaving the country?
Yes. Mammal told her that the passports had to be taken to the airport three days before departure for approval. However, later, when Betty was supposed to go visit her father, they took the passports to the airline two days in advance but only to hold for safe keeping, not for approval. This draws into question whether the three day waiting period was actually required or was a tactic used by the family to keep Betty from leaving Iran.
- NWMD book

Did Moody tell Betty that they would only be in Iran for a two week visit?
Betty Mahmoody today
Betty Mahmoody
today (2009).
This depends on who you ask. Betty Mahmoody claims she was told from the beginning that it would only be a two week visit to see her husband's family in Tehran. Sayyed Bozorg ‘Moody’ Mahmoody claims that they went so he could help those injured in the war and she knew that they would be staying there.
- Without My Daughter documentary

Was Moody really picked on by other doctors?
Yes. The real story reveals that some doctors were referring to him as Dr. Khomeini, and he had numerous threatening phone calls because he did not conceal his happiness over what was occurring in Iran. - Not Without My Daughter book

Is it true that if a woman marries an Iranian man, the wife is automatically an Iranian citizen?
Yes. If you are not Iranian and marry an Iranian man, you automatically become an Iranian citizen. If the marriage occurs in Iran, your national passport will be taken from you. If you divorce or your husband dies, you can renounce your citizenship but your children will be unable to do so. - US Passport Service Guide

Did they really stay with his sister Ameh Bozorg?
Yes. The Not Without My Daughter true story confirms that Moody, Betty and Mahtob stayed with Ameh Bozorg their first couple months in Tehran. Eventually Betty and Ameh Bozorg’s differences became too stressful, so Betty convinced Moody that they needed to move out to work out their relationship without her interfering. - Not Without My Daughter book

Where did they move to when they left Ameh Bozorg’s?
Betty and Mahtob Mahmoody
Betty and Mahtob
posing for a book
cover in 1993.
Since they had little money, they arranged to move into the bottom floor of a two story home to live with his nephew Reza, Reza’s wife Essey, and their two children Maryam and Medhi. After a few weeks, they all realized that the situation was not working for anyone. The children were not getting along and the cramped quarters were making everyone irritable. Then Mammal and Nasserine suggested that they move upstairs, to the second floor with them. They needed someone to watch their son Amir while Mammal was at work and Nasserine was in class at the university. It worked out well for awhile but it wore on them too. After a few months, Mammal and Nasserine went to live with his in-laws because of all the tension, and Moody was told that he, Betty and Mahtob had to move out. Mammal agreed to pay for a place for them to stay because they had no money. They quickly moved out and into their own home for the first time in Iran. - NWMD book

Did his family really keep a watchful eye on her?
Yes. As depicted in the Not Without My Daughter movie, every family member and friend was to report to Moody any phone calls, outings or times his wife was late. - NWMD book

Did they really celebrate Christmas in Iran?
The first Christmas they spent in Tehran was not celebrated at all. The following Christmas, in 1985, was recognized. On Christmas Day, Betty Mahmoody's daughter Mahtob woke up early to unwrap all her presents and then went to school despite being allowed to stay home. They had dinner with friends that night, and the following day, Moody’s family came over with presents for Mahtob and Betty. - NWMD book

Did the owner of a menswear store let Betty use his phone?
Yes. The man sympathized with Betty and was not fond of the revolution in Iran. Since he had visited America a few times and was trying to relocate himself and his family there, he decided to aid Betty despite the risks involved. - NWMD book

Did the owner of the men’s store introduce her to the person that helped her escape?
Maybe. For the safety of those involved, the real Betty Mahmoody does not reveal who put her in contact with the man who helped her escape. “Someone” slipped her an address on a scrap of paper and instructed her on how to get there. When she arrived at the office building she was directed to a man that she referred to as Amahl. - NWMD book

Did Moody really lock Betty in their home and take Mahtob away for weeks?
Mahtob Mahmoody
Mahtob Mahmoody as
an adult in 2009.
Yes. Dr. Mahmoody took Mahtob to live with his relatives, Mostafa and Malouk, a few blocks away. In the words of Mahtob, “I was 5-years-old at the time and for two weeks he interrogated me. He asked every day, ‘Where do you go? Who are you talking to?’ He thought we were trying to escape. For two weeks he tried to get me to break. I didn’t break.” After an air raid, Moody decided it was a sign that they should not be separated and returned Mahtob to their home. - Culpeper Star Exponent

Did Betty Mahmoody really meet an American woman in Koran class?
Yes. After her second class, she was introduced to Ellen Rafaie, a native of Owosso, Michigan. Betty and Moody became friends with her and her husband Hormoz. Mahtob played with their children, a daughter named Maryam who was a few years older than her and a son named Ali who was around her age. - Not Without My Daughter book

Did she ask Ellen to mail a letter for her?
No. Unlike what is shown in the Not Without My Daughter movie, Betty did not ask Ellen to mail a letter for her, however, she did ask her to arrange outings. Betty wanted to use these outings as a cover to go to the Swiss Embassy, where she was sending and receiving mail from her family. Unfortunately, after arranging the first outing, Ellen backed out and told her husband Hormoz everything. - NWMD book

Did Moody really have trouble getting a job in Iran?
Yes. This was mainly due to Moody not having the necessary paperwork to be employed as a doctor in Iran. Eventually, a local hospital agreed to hire him despite this issue but refused to pay him until his paperwork was approved. After a few months, he was still not approved but demanded to be paid anyway. The hospital did so but Moody soon found out that it was not the wage they had agreed on. After being forced out of Mammal and Nasserine’s home, they bought a new place to live and used part of the space as a clinic for Moody to work. By the time Betty escaped, Moody still did not have the required paperwork to legally work as a doctor in Iran. - NWMD book

Was Mahtob Mahmoody really sent home from school because she was crying so much?
Yes. The true story behind Not Without My Daughter confirms that the school called Moody to pick up Mahtob the first few days of school because she was making too much noise. They would not let her come back unless Betty stayed in the office all day to keep Mahtob calm and cooperative. - NWMD book

Did Betty really just sit around in the school office all day reading?
No. Soon after Betty began spending the day at school, some of the office women asked to be taught English. She spent her days teaching them English and they returned the favor by teaching her Farsi. - NWMD book

Were they at school when the bombing occurred?
No. When researching the Not Without My Daughter real story, it was discovered that while they did encounter a number of air raids, none occurred during school hours. A bombing did occur near the school, wiping out entire city blocks, but that happened during the night when no one was in attendance. - NWMD book

Were basketball players really taken away in trucks?
Not exactly. A group of teenage boys playing volleyball were taken away in trucks at gunpoint. Although Moody and Reza’s wife Essey told Betty that they must have been doing something wrong, Betty relayed what happened to a woman working at the school the next day. The woman informed her that it was common. Groups of boys were often picked up at parks and schools to be put in the war. - NWMD book

Was the original plan to escape through Turkey?
No. Amahl’s original plan was for Betty and Mahtob to fly from Tehran to Bandar Abbas in southern Iran, then have them taken by speedboat across the Persian Gulf to one of the Arab emirates. Since they escaped from Moody early, these plans could not be solidified
Betty Mahmoody Escape Routes
Escape Routes from Iran (click to enlarge).
and they moved on to a backup plan. This plan included flying from Tehran to Zahidan in eastern Iran, have the smugglers take them over the mountains into Quetta, Pakistan, and then fly from there to Karachi, Pakistan. This plan had to be scrapped when Moody notified the police that his wife was missing, because they could no longer fly out of Tehran since officials were looking for them. With that knowledge, the plan was changed again. Betty and Mahtob were to be driven with an Iranian family from Tehran to Tabriz in northwestern Iran. Then smugglers would lead them through the mountains and a Red Cross ambulance would take them into Van, Turkey. There, they would fly or take a bus to Ankara, Turkey where the Embassy of the United States of America is located. Aside from the Red Cross ambulance, this was the plan used. They ended up going into Turkey by horse because of an altercation earlier on, which had the border guards on high alert. - Not Without My Daughter book

Did Betty and Mahtob really escape when Moody was called to an emergency?
Yes. Moody was answering an emergency call to the hospital about a warfare patient with difficulty breathing. After intubating the patient, he returned home to find them both gone. - Without My Daughter documentary

Did Betty say she wanted to buy gifts for her father in order to get out of the house and escape?
No. Since they had been invited to dinner at a neighbor’s house, she said she needed to go buy flowers to take to them, since it is a tradition in Iran. In addition, Betty was actually driven to the market area by her friend (a patient of Moody's) Fereshteh Noroozi and claimed she would like to walk back to get some fresh air. Despite the orders of Moody that she not be left unattended, her friend accepted this and let her go. - Not Without My Daughter book

Was the heat and wind an issue during the escape?
No. The real story reveals that they had the opposite problem to what is shown in the movie; the route was covered in snow and ice. - NWMD book

Was she really almost raped when trying to escape?
No. This appears to be Hollywood’s way of explaining why the end of their escape plan had to be changed. - NWMD book

How long were Betty and Mahtob Mahmoody in Iran?
They arrived in Tehran with Moody on August 3, 1984. On January 29, 1986, Betty and Mahtob escaped. They spent the next two nights hidden in an apartment in Tehran. On the night of January 31,
Moody Mahmoody
'Moody' Mahmoody
they began their journey and arrived in Turkey three days later. Betty and Mahtob arrived back in Michigan on February 7, 1986, just over 18 months after they had left for Iran. - NWMD book

Has Moody seen his daughter Mahtob since she fled from Iran?
No. Despite trying to call and e-mail Mahtob, Sayyed Bozorg ‘Moody’ Mahmoody did not see her again before he died on August 23, 2009. She refused contact with him. The last time they were together was January 29, 1986.

Buy Not Without My Daughter novel
What does Betty Mahmoody do today?
In addition to writing several books about her experience and the experiences of women in similar situations, including the For the Love of a Child book (see right column), Betty Mahmoody today is a member of the AEI Speakers Bureau and she travels the country telling her story. She is also the President and co-founder of ONE WORLD: FOR CHILDREN, an organization created to promote understanding between cultures and to protect children from the potential dark side of bi-cultural marriages. - AEI Speakers Bureau

Not Without My Daughter Interviews & Related Video

Watch interviews and video exploring the Not Without My Daughter true story. Watch an interview with the real Betty Mahmoody and then view each segment of a 2002 Finnish documentary film that offers Sayyed Bozorg Mahmoody's side of the story.