Scope and Content of Collection
Language of Material:
ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, USC Libraries, University of Southern California
Title: Charles Pierce Photographs, Papers, Costumes, and Memorabilia
Identifier/Call Number: Coll2008-019
54 Linear Feet
Date (inclusive): 1850-2000
Date (bulk): bulk
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 1970-1990.
Physical Description: 7 records boxes + 9 archive cartons + 2 archive half-cartons + 11 oversize boxes + 8 shelves + 2 map case drawers.
The collection is open to researchers. There are no access restrictions.
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
Box #, folder #, Charles Pierce Photographs, Papers, Costumes, and Memorabilia, Coll2008-019, ONE National Gay and Lesbian
Archives, Los Angeles, California.
Circumstances of acquisition unknown.
Collection processed by Michael C. Oliveira, Bill Kaiser, and Arthur Eades, 2007-2008. An addition to the collection was processed by Jeff Snapp, 2015.
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
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.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Gay actors -- United States
Female impersonators -- United States
Costumes and clothes
Clippings -- 1940-1990