Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Charles Pierce Photographs, Papers, Costumes, and
Bulk Dates: 1970-1990.
Collection number: Coll2008-019
Collection Size: 7 records boxes + 9 archive
cartons + 2 archive half-cartons + 8 oversize boxes + 8
shelves + 2 map case drawers. 54 linear feet.
ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives.
Los Angeles, California 90007
Abstract: 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
Languages: Languages represented in
the collection: English
The collection is open to researchers. There are no access
Researchers wishing to publish materials must obtain permission in
writing from ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives as the physical owner.
Researchers must also obtain clearance from the holder(s) of any copyrights in
the materials. Note that ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives can grant
copyright clearance only for those materials for which we hold the copyright.
It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain copyright clearance for
all other materials directly from the copyright holder(s).
Box #, folder #, Charles Pierce Photographs, Papers, Costumes, and
Memorabilia, Coll2008-019, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles,
Circumstances of acquisition unknown.
Collection processed by Michael C. Oliveira, Bill Kaiser, and Arthur Eades,
Processing this collection has been funded by a generous grant from the
National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
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.
Scope and Content of Collection
The collection consists of primarily personal photographs taken of
Pierce by friends and family, some assembled into albums. The photographs span
his life from infancy through his retirement, with the bulk of the photographs
documenting the period between 1970-1990. Other records include personal and
professional correspondence arranged by decade primarily from his mother and
his friends. The Pasadena Playhouse school records, 1946-1948, include his
report cards and correspondence from the Playhouse along with performance
playbills, school bulletins, and yearbooks. Transitional and later performance
documents are included in the Performance Materials series that consists of
scripts, lyrics, music and clippings of and about his performances. The
clippings contain advertisements, reviews, articles, interviews, and research
materials for and about his shows. The bulk of the Personal Series consists of
family genealogical information along with remembrances and obituaries of
Pierce. The series also includes a transcript of an oral history recorded in
1989 and a photocopy of a redacted personal address book. The final series,
Artifacts consists of a sample of costumes and accessories such as hats and
costume jewelry and Moppets and Moppets costumes from Pierce's
performances. The series also contains a sample of trophies awarded to Pierce,
other miscellaneous artifacts, and audio, video, and computer media of his
performances and back-up copies of images from a Charles Pierce tribute
The following terms have been used to index the description of this
collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Costumes and clothes
Female impersonators--United States
Gay actors--United States
In 1998 and 1999, Pierce gave some of his papers to the Billy Rose
Theatre Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, where
they now constitute the Charles Pierce Papers, *T-Mss 1998-008.