Photographs, clippings, programs,
correspondence, lyrics, music, costumes with accessories, audio and video
recordings, and souvenirs from the life and performances of Charles Pierce (1926-1999),
impressionist and comedian, one of the foremost American female impersonators
of the second half of the 20th century. The bulk of materials date from
Charles Pierce, impressionist and comedian, was one of the
foremost American female impersonators in the second half of the 20th century.
Born in Watertown, New York, on July 14, 1926, he started his acting career at the Pasadena
Playhouse in the early 1950s. During this period, he was inspired by several
nightclub acts in Los Angeles to develop his own act. His first professional
performance was at Café La Vie in Altadena, California, in 1954. Because of laws
against cross-dressing, Pierce performed in a tuxedo with accessories such as a
boa, hats, and pocketbooks. It was not until ten years after he began his
career that Pierce donned full female costumes, reflecting changes in
legislation that had made such acts legal. Pierce had lengthy and celebrated
engagements at various venues including the Plush Room in San Francisco's York
Hotel in the early 1980s, and engagements at San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel's
Venetian Room and New York's Top of the Gate and The Ballroom. His portrayals
included Tallulah Bankhead, Carol Channing, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis,
Katharine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, and Mae West. He appeared on numerous
television shows (not always in drag), including
Laverne and Shirley,
Starsky & Hutch, and
Love, American Style. His films include
Rabbit Test (1978),
Torch Song Trilogy (1988), and
Nerds of a Feather (1990). He also issued
several recordings, including Live at Bimbo's (circa 1972) on the Blue Thumb
label, and a video, Charles Pierce at The Ballroom (1988). He died in North
Hollywood, California, on May 31, 1999, at the age of 72.
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