Marshall v. Bias: A Life Revealed in Anecdotes

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The prospect of the stage play translated for television has long made me somnolent. Given the choice between revisiting the aggressively middlebrow and moralistic live dramas of the 1950s — those that are said to make up the golden age of television — or reruns of “Sex and the City” on TBS, I would unabashedly take the girl talk and consider myself a person of superior judgment for making the choice.

As a form the teleplay is mired in its own noble pedantry, which is why the arrival of “Thurgood” on HBO on Thursday initially seems dubious — especially so, perhaps, because it is a one-man enterprise even more heavily prone to the sensibility of tutorial. Starring Laurence Fishburne, “Thurgood” is the filmed version of the play by George Stevens Jr. that appeared on Broadway three years ago as a chronicle of the life and legal career of Thurgood Marshall. The HBO production was taped at a live performance at the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center, an incongruity given President Eisenhower’s ambivalence about the decision handed down in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark desegregation case in 1954 that made Marshall one of the most important lawyers of the civil rights movement....

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