Thursday, 1 March 2012

Flower Power - daffodil

Because today is St. David’s Day I thought I’d look at the national flower of Wales – the daffodil. Officially the national flower of Wales is the leek but in 1911 it was thought the daffodil was less vulgar and looked better alongside the English rose and the Scottish thistle. Also it was a flower seen in large numbers at this time of year.

There is much in common with the daffodil and my previous Flower Power subject the pansy. Both were slang names that were often used on east-coast America during the 1920s and 30s. Both were originally used to describe a man’s fashion style. Young men dressed in bright and bold colours were called pansies, and daffodil (as far back as Tudor times in the form of “daffy-down-dilly”) was a term used well into the 19th century for a extravagantly-dressed dandy.

Along with pansy, daffodil was used in America more than in the UK during the early 20th century, especially in the New York entertainment world. It could be that the young chorus boys of the Broadway theatres were being called daffodils, or daffydills, before it spread to other walks of life. The word even appears in one of the most famous songs of that era, “Lullaby of Broadway”.

Written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren, “Lullaby of Broadway” was featured in the 1935 Busby Berkeley film “The Gold Diggers of 1935” and won the Oscar for Best Song. You may know the song – I can hear the tripping little tune in my head right now! One verse goes :
“The rumble of the subway trains,
The rattle of the taxis.
The daffydils who entertain
At Angelo’s and Maxi’s.”
Just who or were Angelo and Maxi doesn’t really matter – they’re fictional. But Dubin and Warren had been around Broadway long enough to have worked with many gay young “daffydils”.

The botanical name for the daffodil is Narcissus pseudonarcissus. Narcissus was the name of the youth in Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection (I know some gay men who have done the same!) And that’s a story for next Flower Power.

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