The Snake Has All The Lines by Jean Kerr (1960)
The Snake Has All The Lines
by Jean Kerr (1960)
A collection of autobiographical essays from this Tony Award-winning author and playwright.

Memoirs are perhaps one of the most relentless of all publishing genres. There is a constant stream of new ones being published with books from celebrities and famous names usually hogging the headlines.

Many memoirs, highly rated at the time of publication, slip into obscurity and fade away.  You can find them gathering dust in the corners of secondhand bookshops. But many of these books are worth dusting off. This trip around memoirs from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s includes a few famous names such as poet Cecil Day Lewis, author Gavin Maxwell, publisher Stanley Unwin and French crooner Maurice Chevalier.  However, the majority of authors on this list will be unfamiliar to most people.

There is a particular joy to reading memoirs from less-than-famous names. You never know what’s around the corner. A childhood can be ripped apart. A promising career can fall to pieces. A marriage can crumble. A moment of opportunity can be seized or missed. And who can ignore memoirs when they have titles like Memoirs of an Abominable Showman and Throw Me a Bone: What Happens When you Marry an Archaeologist?

Our selection covers fishing, war-time experiences, the entertainment business, colonial life, education, Soviet Russia, museum life and the most common memoir subject of all – childhood.

 

A Selection of Forgotten Memoirs

Memoirs of a Sword Swallower by Dan Mannix (1951)
Memoirs of a Sword Swallower
by Dan Mannix (1951)

Mannix became famous on the carnival circuit as a supreme fire breather and sword swallower.
Memoirs of a Heterosexual by Alexander Rose (1967)
Memoirs of a Heterosexual
by Alexander Rose (1967)

Rose was a musician, writer, actor, court reporter, inventor, linguist, traveler and radio personality.
The Buried Day: A Personal Memoir by Cecil Day Lewis (1960)
The Buried Day: A Personal Memoir
by Cecil Day Lewis (1960)

The Irish poet writes about childhood, World War I, Oxford, politics and marriage.
Tangaroa’s Godchild, a Memoir of the South Pacific by Olaf Ruhen (1962)
Tangaroa’s Godchild, a Memoir of the South Pacific
by Olaf Ruhen (1962)

One of the best memoirs written about South Pacific life – the islands, the people, the seas.
Gaily, Gaily: The Memoirs of a Club Reporter in Chicago by Ben Hecht (1963)
Gaily, Gaily: The Memoirs of a Club Reporter in Chicago
by Ben Hecht (1963)

Hecht became a successful screenwriter, director and movie producer, but started in journalism.
Three Churches and a Model T by Philip Jerome Cleveland (1960)
Three Churches and a Model T
by Philip Jerome Cleveland (1960)

The adventures of a country preacher as he travels the highways and byways.
How do you Spank a Porcupine? by Ronald Rood (1969)
How do you Spank a Porcupine?
by Ronald Rood (1969)

An animal-loving family in New England adopt a porcupine called Piney.
Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon & Rumer Godden (1966)
Two Under the Indian Sun
by Jon & Rumer Godden (1966)

Sisters Jon and Rumer write of the five years spent in India as young girls.
Child of the Holocaust by Jack Kuper (1967)
Child of the Holocaust
by Jack Kuper (1967)

An account of how a nine-year-old Jewish boy tries to survive in Nazi-occupied Poland.
A Fly-Switch from the Sultan by Darrell Bates (1961)
A Fly-Switch from the Sultan
by Darrell Bates (1961)

An amusing account of the life of a district commissioner in Tanzania in the mid-1930s.
Eton: A Dame’s Chronicle by Nora Byron (1965)
Eton: A Dame’s Chronicle
by Nora Byron (1965)

A day-to-day account of life in the prestigious English school. Illustrated by Elizabeth Andrewes.
Short Drive Sweet Chariot by William Saroyan (1966)
Short Drive Sweet Chariot
by William Saroyan (1966)

The author's account of a trip to Fresno, with his cousin John, to take his relatives out in style.
Memoirs of an Abominable Showman by Billy Moloney (1968)
Memoirs of an Abominable Showman
by Billy Moloney (1968)

Great title! The Australian author was a broadcaster, theater manager, press agent and more.
Wide Meadows by Jean Bell Mosley (1960)
Wide Meadows
by Jean Bell Mosley (1960)

The story of a girl’s childhood up on the River Valley Farm in the Ozarks of Missouri.
The House of Elrig: An Autobiography of Childhood by Gavin Maxwell (1965)
The House of Elrig: An Autobiography of Childhood
by Gavin Maxwell (1965)

Maxwell, famous for Ring of Bright Water, writes about his early years in wind-swept Scotland.
Museum Piece, or the Education of an Iconographer by James Laver (1963)
Museum Piece, or the Education of an Iconographer
by James Laver (1963)

A rather lively memoir from a Keeper of Prints and Drawings at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
The Truth about a Publisher by Stanley Unwin (1960)
The Truth about a Publisher
by Stanley Unwin (1960)

A memoir about books and publishing from a legendary name in the book industry.
The Cossacks burned down the YMCA: Russia revisited by Eddy Gilmore (1964)
The Cossacks Burned Down the YMCA: Russia Revisited
by Eddy Gilmore (1964)

An account of the author’s return to the USSR after 10 years away.
With love by Maurice Chevalier (1960)
With Love
by Maurice Chevalier (1960)

A memoir from the French entertainer best known for "Thank Heaven for Little Girls."
Throw Me a Bone: What Happens When You Marry an Archaeologist by Eleanor Lothrop (1948)
The Circus Kings: Our Ringling Family Story.
by Henry Ringling North & Alden Hatch (1960)

Henry Ringling North remembers growing up in a famous circus family.
Hook, Line and Sinker by Ralph Seaman (1956)
Hook, Line and Sinker
by Ralph Seaman (1956)

A memoir about a lifetime spent fishing in North America from an aptly named author.
The Valley of the Shadow by H. Oloff De Wet (1949)
The Valley of the Shadow
by H. Oloff De Wet (1949)

De Wet served in the Spanish Civil War, was arrested by the Gestapo and was a P.O.W.
The Threshold: A Memoir of Childhood by Dorothea Rutherford (1955)
The Threshold: A Memoir of Childhood
by Dorothea Rutherford (1955)

A memoir of childhood in Estonia at the end of 19th and beginning of the 20th century.
Bricks and Flowers by Katherine Everett (1949)
Bricks and Flowers
by Katherine Everett (1949)

The author became a house builder and garden designer but this is an account of her student days.
Minor Heresies by John Espey (1945)
Minor Heresies
by John Espey (1945)

A memoir of growing up as the child of Presbyterian missionaries in Shanghai.
Matt Field on the Santa Fe Trail by Matt Field (1960)
Matt Field on the Santa Fe Trail
by Matt Field (1960)

In 1839 a journalist on the New Orleans Picayune joined merchants and tourists on the Santa Fe Trail.
Fanfare: The Confessions of a Press Agent by Richard Maney (1957)
Fanfare: The Confessions of a Press Agent
by Richard Maney (1957)

The world of a theatrical ten-percenter, covering Broadway from the 1920s to the mid-1950s.
In Great Waters, Memoirs of a Master Mariner by Captain S.G.S. McNeil (1932)
In Great Waters, Memoirs of a Master Mariner
by Captain S.G.S. McNeil (1932)

Debs was a union leader, founder of the Industrial Workers of the World and a presidential candidate.
Impresario: A Memoir by Sol Hurok (1946)
Impresario: A Memoir
by Sol Hurok (1946)

The life of a famous 20th century American financier of concerts, operas and plays.
Doughboy Chaplain by Captain Edward K. Rogers (1946)
Doughboy Chaplain
by Captain Edward K. Rogers (1946)

The World War II memoirs of the chaplain with the First Infantry Division.

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