Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Pierce (Charles) Photographs, Papers, Costumes, and Memorabilia
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing Information
  • Biography
  • Scope and Content of Collection
  • Separated Materials

  • Language of Material: English
    Contributing Institution: ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, USC Libraries, University of Southern California
    Title: Charles Pierce Photographs, Papers, Costumes, and Memorabilia
    creator: Pierce, Charles
    Identifier/Call Number: Coll2008-019
    Physical Description: 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.

    Publication Rights

    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).

    Preferred Citation

    Box #, folder #, Charles Pierce Photographs, Papers, Costumes, and Memorabilia, Coll2008-019, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California.

    Acquisition Information

    Circumstances of acquisition unknown.

    Processing Information

    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 Fame, Laverne and Shirley, Designing Women, 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.
    Sócrates Silva

    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 site.

    Separated Materials

    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
    Humorous music
    Costumes and clothes
    Clippings -- 1940-1990
    Pierce, Charles
    Pierce, Charles