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Vol. 5, Iss. 3
March 2, 2016

Bridge Of Spies: Making It Real

Well, Bridge of Spies did not win the Oscar for Best Picture (although Mark Rylance won for Best Supporting Actor for his incredible portrayal of spy Rudolph Abel). Nonetheless, it is an incredible film. And for people involved with insurance coverage it is incredible and surreal. It is now out on video. If you have not seen the film you can’t imagine what you are missing.

For those of you living in a spider cave, in Bridge of Spies Tom Hanks plays an insurance coverage lawyer who defends an accused Soviet spy in the late 1950s. After his client is found guilty, Hanks’s character goes cloak and dagger and attempts to arrange for him to be swapped for the return of an American spy pilot being held by the Soviets. It’s a true story. It has to be. Nobody could possibly make that up.

The coverage lawyer in question is James Donovan. In 1950 Donovan joined with Thomas Watters, Jr., a former deputy insurance commissioner of Iowa (played by Alan Alda in the film), to form the law firm Watters & Donovan in New York and Washington.

I had the thrill and privilege of interviewing all thee of James Donovan’s living children for the October 28, 2015 issue of Coverage Opinions. After speaking with Donovan’s children, and reading Strangers on a Bridge, Donovan’s first-hand account of the spy trial and prisoner exchange, I wanted to learn more about him.

Following Donovan’s death in 1970, the Watters & Donovan firm went through various successions and, in 2002, became Donovan Parry McDermott & Radzik. The firm’s Dan McDermott, renowned maritime and maritime insurance lawyer, is now with Marshall Dennehey in New York.

I visited Dan in his office late last year and he was kind enough to share with me some stories about James Donovan and the trial. Dan never met Donovan but is a student of the man and very knowledgeable about him. And in the it-doesn’t-get-any-cooler-than-this category, Dan showed me the original sign for the Watters & Donovan law firm. I appreciate Dan’s hospitality and for the opportunity to touch a real part of James Donovan’s life.

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