Lillian Gale (1885-1972) is a slight enigma. The Pictorial History of Vaudeville tells us she was “the first little girl to sing from the audience” and supplies us with this picture:
But I’ve not been able to find any reference to her performing in any theatres. No relation to the Gale Quintuplets, she was apparently the daughter of the prominent blackface minstrel** George Gale. The elder Gale’s career began circa 1875 with Harry Robinson’s Minstrels in Coldwater, Michigan, and later he performed with Carncross MInstrels, Haverly’s Minstrels, and Primrose and West’s Minstrels. He performed with an outfit called the Clipper Quartet at Hyde and Behman’s, and was also a member of “The Come Backs”, said to have been “the first minstrel show to play vaudeville“. He was known for his tenor singing voice, and for doing drag impressions, including an impersonation of Sarah Bernhardt.
It’s likely that Lillian began performing during her father’s shows, and perhaps she took a different professional name for a time, but this is only conjecture. What we do know is that in the mid 1920s, when she was nearly 40, she appears in half a dozen silent films over the course of two years, all apparently melodramas: The Way of a Man (1924), The Fortieth Door (1924), Ten Scars Make a Man (1924), Walloping Wallace (1924), Idaho (1925), Perils of the Coast Guard (1926).
At the time of her father’s obituary in 1934, she was said to be working as a scenario writer, presumably for films, although IMDB doesn’t give any writing credits for her. She does later appear to have written for radio, and to have been on an adviser on a 1950 attempt to revive a blackface minstrel show by Fred Waring and His Orchestra. This appalling broadcast occurred on CBS.
**Obligatory Disclaimer: It is the official position of this blog that Caucasians-in-Blackface is NEVER okay. It was bad then, and it’s bad now. We occasionally show images depicting the practice, or refer to it in our writing, because it is necessary to tell the story of American show business, which like the history of humanity, is a mix of good and bad.
To learn more more about vaudeville please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.