The Children of James Donovan- A Special Interview

I had a marvelous discussion last night that I have to share.  I review books and movies from time to time on my website, historycentral.com, and thus I am often approached to review books, movies or given the opportunity to interview people.  I was approached recently by the PR firm working for Disney who is promoting the film Bridge of Spies.  The movie chronicles the  freeing of Gary Powers and the defense that James Donovan, who is portrayed in the movie by Tom Hanks, gave to Rudolf Abel who was convicted of spying for the Soviets and whom Donovan arranged to be exchanged for Powers. I was giving the opportunity to discuss the film and their father with Donovan’s three children, John, Jan and Mary. I had a delightful chat with them.  They gave me a unique perspective on a man who was clearly devoted to the law, while at the same time, devoted to his family.

I asked them if they saw much of their father during the height of the trial and they proudly told me that their father was always home for dinner, and how he worked at home in the evenings.  Their father had a great den where he worked, but that door was always open for his kids.  I asked the children whether they had any problems in school from other children who were upset that their father defended a “Commie”,  and they said only once in a while.  It did not bother them when strangers attacked them, but it did hurt when people they knew criticized their father. Donovan was committed to explaining to his kids what he was doing and why.  He took one of the kids with him on a visit to the Soviet Union and even took one of them with him to Cuba when he was negotiating for the release of the rebels captured in the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  Their father had put together with some short films on the Holocaust to be used at the Nuremberg trial, and were thrilled that Steven Spielberg, the director of Bridge of Spies, spoke highly of the short films their father made.

The sibling, who must all be in their late 60s and 70s, seemed close and although they claimed that each were very different were certainly tied together by their love of their father and appreciation of his work.  When the sibling got on the phone they had no idea that I was talking to them from Israel, but when they heard I was in Tel Aviv it seemed to become even more animated and one of them told me about his visit to Israel 40 plus years ago.  It was a fascinating and inspiring 30 minutes and I wish I had time to do more similar interviews.

James_B._Donovan

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