HBO show offers sharp insights into Grouch Marx

November 04, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun TV Critic

"He needed a Groucho Marx to cheer him up. And he was the only person in the world who couldn't have one."

"Here He Is . . . The One, The Only . . . Groucho," an HBO profile of Groucho Marx at 10 tonight, is full of that kind of smart talk about the late comedian. Dick Cavett, Jack Lemmon, Bill Cosby, George Fenneman, Miriam Marx and others offer thoughtful and, surprisingly, some tough-minded analysis and anecdotes in an hour worth cranking up the VCR for if you can't watch.

Comedian David Steinberg narrates the show. To give a sense of the man, the persona and the body of his work, it uses lots of Marx Brothers film clips, as well as film from the "You Bet Your Life" TV show and various talk shows Marx appeared on in his later years.

The image that lingers is of a man who lost his childhood to a overbearing stage mother and a hardscrabble life in vaudeville. He never really connected emotionally with women; his daughter says he deliberately demeaned his wives. He was a mass of insecurities and suffered bouts of clinical depression. Yet he created comedy that liberated others from the prison of their fears.

The HBO special suffers a bit from the myopia of Hollywood. Marx was "the original rebel," viewers are told. That will be news to viewers familiar with, say, Prometheus or Socrates.

But, overall, it captures a slice of the melancholy of Marx's life, the exhilaration of his comedy. "Here He Is" is one of the more honest show biz appreciations you'll see on TV.

The show will repeat Nov. 8, 10, 13, 23 and 29.

Comedy might tackle harassment issue

Tonight's episode of "Designing Women" is expected to reflect on the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill battle and the broader issue of sexual harassment, CBS said last week.

"Designing Women" airs at 9:30 p.m. on Channel 11. A CBS spokesman said the show's writers were trying to be topical by taking their cue from Judge Thomas' Supreme Court confirmation hearings. He was charged by Ms. Hill of making inappropriate sexual remarks when he was her supervisor years ago.

The spokesman added the show was being hurried into production and might not be ready for tonight.

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