American Vaudeville Museum

All material © 1998-2012 American Museum of Vaudeville, Inc.  Page 54

Lillian Goodner

The day was much like any other June day in Montgomery, Alabama—the kind of humid, hot day that sends television weathercasters outside to crack eggs on the pavement in the hope of illustrating natural cooking on hot asphalt.

I needed to find a cool place to pass an hour downtown. The public library beckoned with a selection of current magazines. Perhaps a tour of historic Union Train Station was in order. Then I remembered a notice that had appeared in the newspaper: a free photographic exhibit of show business performers of the 1920s and 1930s at the Rosa Parks Museum Art Gallery, so I decided to drop in and enjoy the cool and quiet as the museum awaited the arrival of the next tour bus.

Tucked in the back of the museum were 60 photographs of African American entertainers. Little did I know how my thoughts and life would soon be dominated by the images of those performers. I went around the gallery several times taking in the photographs and reading the captions.

There on the wall, looking back at me were Ethel Waters, Josephine Baker and Bessie Smith among others. I’d have been content to go away and called it a day had it not been for a series of ten photographs of one lady, Lillian Goodner.

Some photographs pictured her as a solo act and others as part of combination acts with other entertainers. The captions informed visitors that Lillian Goodner had performed for more than 40 years in show business and traveled all over America. Upon retiring, she moved back to Montgomery where she passed away at the age of 98 in 1994, only a short time before the exhibition had been mounted.