In 1913, fashions and attitudes were changing quickly. Early that year women suffragettes had marched in the US and later that year the scandalous argentine tango began to be danced in western society. The tango reached Australia in late 1913 and almost at the same time, a young music hall artist called Daisy Jerome arrived in Australia under contract to JC Williamson.
When Daisy Jerome landed in Adelaide in 1913 she was dripping with jewels and carried a scent of the scandalous. The American born, but English raised, comedienne was a small woman with a wiry frame topped with a carroty mop of red hair. She had a sparkling and wicked sense of humour and a vibrant manner. However, it was the fate of her dresses that worried Daisy when she arrived. She had forgotten a box in London and was afraid she would not be able to replace them when she reached Sydney.
Daisy Jerome was a product of music hall and J C Williamson had caught her act in London. He hired her for an Australian tour at the huge rate of 150 pounds a week, and Daisy had eagerly grabbed the opportunity .
In England Daisy was surrounded by a faint scent of impropriety. Her act was outrageous, she often made pointed political allusions in her songs, and some had suggestive lyrics which were often accompanied by a wicked wink which promised more than she delivered.
Daisy was a feisty product of a system which required toughness and charm. She had deserted her first husband, Mr Fowler, a year after their marriage and started to live with a Mr Allen. During the divorce proceedings, Mr Fowler had stated that Miss Jerome’s mother was a strain on their relationship and had threatened to kill Mr Allen if he didn’t marry Daisy after soiling her reputation. Mother Jerome accompanied Daisy to Australia, but Mr Allen was nowhere to be seen.
There was also the court case for libel that she had initiated against a journalist in 1910. The journalist wrote that Daisy had performed several encores, although the audience had not asked for them. During the case, Daisy’s song, ' a little pat of butter' a ditty with several dubious meanings and a verse about Chamberlain, was disparaged. She won the case and was awarded the grand sum of a farthing .
Daisy ‘s first appearance in Australia was in Sydney in December 1913. She was one of the stars of Australia’s first revue, ‘Come over here’. The show was panned by critics because of its length and many reviewers thought it would have been better with some judicious cuts. Sydney reviewers however, enjoyed Daisy's role. The contrast between her delicate ladylike frame and the raucous vulgarity of her comic songs shocked audiences and the reviewers firmly decided that Daisy was ‘an acquired taste.’ Daisy agreed with this assessment. She later told journalists that audiences in Sydney were initially cold towards her. It may have been her bright red hair or the quick changes of costume or the famous wicked wink that shocked them. However, Daisy eventually won over the sceptics in Sydney and by the time the show arrived in Melbourne, she was warmly welcomed and christened with the nickname, ‘The electric spark.’
During the run of the show, fellow comedian, Jack Cannot played a joke on Daisy. Her red hair was a source of gossip and speculation. Daisy was at great pains to assure audiences and press that it was her natural colour, but few believed her. It was such a source of controversy that Cannot used it as the basis of a prank.
In Melbourne, Cannot informed Daisy, that there was a gentleman who had taken offence at her red hair. Daisy was indignant and insisted to Cannot that her hair was hardly her fault, but the Australian comedian insisted that the offended gentleman would visit Daisy that night.
Cannot then rang the local fire brigade and spoke to the superintendent. He told him that there was a grave risk of fire during Miss Daisy Jerome’s turn on stage that night. Superintendent Lee was worried and agreed to come to the theatre to assess the risk. Upon meeting Daisy Mr Lee immediately sensed the problem and said, ‘ I agree, there is a danger of fire . The scenery should be fireproofed at once.’
Red hair was a source of superstition and had long been associated with bad tempers and scandalous sexuality. This was particularly a problem for women in the early 20th Century when combined with a theatrical profession and a music hall background. Daisy’s stage persona capitalised on the evil reputation of red heads, but she also sought to maintain some respectability by insisting her carrot top was natural rather than dyed. The presence of her mother by her side maintained her respectability too.
Initial reports of Daisy’s arrival had emphasised her jewellery and sophisticated style. However, after the declaration of war in July, reports began to focus on her simplicity of dress and direct manner. Daisy assured reporters that she was not interested in clothes at all, and that she wanted to appear as simply dressed as possible so that the audience could focus on her singing ability.
After her contract with Williamson lapsed, Daisy was offered another large contract by Fullers. This was for vaudeville performances and gave Daisy the opportunity to showcase the naughty act that had caused furore in Europe.
In Brisbane in October 1914 she sang, ‘ When you go to the seaside’, and two of her signature tunes, ‘Row Row Row’ and the pro feminist ‘ The Press, the Pulpit and the Petticoat’. The last compared the powers of the media and the church to the power of women, with women being favoured of the three.
Daisy’s feisty singing, her independence and her slightly risqué act and comments about the role of women in society were typical of many women of her day. In an interview in Adelaide in 1914, she stated that the only influence on her decisions were her own wishes. She told the interviewer, ‘ I refuse to regulate my acts to accepted rules of conduct, that is why I suppose people say that I am mad.’
Independent minded Daisy was happy to pay for herself rather than rely on a man to pay for her. She thought the fact that she earned more than most men meant that she should pay her own way. Her statements to the press were unusual and shocking for the period, but her popularity with audiences did not fail and she had a successful tour of the major cities and New Zealand with Fullers.
Daisy also toured regional centres of Australia and visited mining towns in Queensland and New South Wales. In Brisbane she performed for visitors and of course she participated in various war related benefits such as auctions and benefit performances
Daisy remained in Australia until 1916 and left Ben Fuller with a court case. She sued a man for the return of a loan in 1917 after her departure. She lost the case, but had left Australia long before it was heard.