A Starring Role

HLS event explores the story behind the story of the alum portrayed in the Steven Spielberg film

In last year’s Academy Award-nominated film “Bridge of Spies,” Tom Hanks plays a lawyer who defends an accused Soviet spy in the U.S. The Hanks character appears to be dumbfounded that he has been asked to take on such an assignment. “I’m an insurance lawyer,” he says.

President Kennedy thanking James B. Donovan

Credit: Courtesy of Donovan Family President John F. Kennedy thanking James B. Donovan ’40 for his help negotiating the prisoner swap

The real lawyer whom Hanks portrays, James B. Donovan ’40, was that—and more. His career included stints as general counsel of the Office of Strategic Services and assistant prosecutor at the principal Nuremberg trial—and negotiating a prisoner release with Fidel Castro, then the new leader of Cuba. The character depicted as an everyman in the film was celebrated as an extraordinary man earlier this year when the HLS Program on Negotiation hosted a film screening and a discussion, moderated by Dean Martha Minow, featuring Donovan’s granddaughter Beth Amorosi and negotiation expert and HBS Professor Michael Wheeler LL.M. ’74. The discussion explored how Donovan negotiated a swap of his convicted client, Rudolf Abel, and two Americans captured by the Soviet Union.

“He was a superb lawyer,” said Minow. “He was highly skilled, and he had a sense of public mission that is manifested by how he spent his life.”

Read More

"Bridge of Spies at HLS"

On Wednesday March 30 at Austin Hall, Harvard Law School's Program on Negotiation hosted a screening of "Bridge of Spies," followed by a panel discussion featuring Dean Martha Minow, Professor Michael Wheeler of the Harvard Business School, and Beth and John Amorosi, the granddaughter and grandson of James B. Donovan.