Wallace Markfield, Contender

Markfield_081012_620pxJ. Hoberman in Tablet:

Had he lived, Wallace Markfield would have celebrated his 86th birthday this week. But it’s been 10 years since this word-slinging tummler left the stage, and you have to wonder if he didn’t write his own epitaph decades earlier. In the most famous line of his first and best-remembered novel, To an Early Grave—a book that treated New York Jewish intellectuals as though they were Catskill comedians—Markfield described its deceased prime mover as “a second-rate talent of the highest order.”

Put another way, Markfield was the most gifted also-ran associated with the so-called Jewish-American literary renaissance of 1950s and ’60s: His three Jew-obsessed comic novels were eclipsed by the titanic oeuvre of Philip Roth, his ideas regarding Jews and popular culture were massively elaborated by professor turned new journalist Albert Goldman, and his promising bid to establish himself as a wise-guy, street-smart luftmensh-intellectual Jewish film critic was upended by Manny Farber and trumped by Pauline Kael.