Charles Pierce (female impersonator)

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For other people named Charles Pierce, see Charles Pierce (disambiguation).
Charles Pierce as Baby Jane Hudson from 1987 greeting card series

Charles Pierce (July 14, 1926 – May 31, 1999) was one of the 20th century's foremost female impersonators, particularly noted for his impression of Bette Davis.

Life and career[edit]

Born in Watertown, New York, he began his show business career playing the organ and acting in radio dramas at station WWNY. He branched out into a comedy routine, attired in tuxedo, yet managed to evoke eerily convincing imitations of popular movie actresses. Eschewing the term drag queen, which he hated, he billed himself as a male actress.

Initially playing in small gay clubs, his fame spread. He took up residence in San Francisco, California, where his act became well-known to Hollywood stars. As he developed his comedy act at San Francisco's Gilded Cage in the late 1960s, his costuming became more elaborate, initially adding small props, later full costume and makeup changes. His impressions were imitated by other female impersonators, and his "roles" included Bette Davis, Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead, Gloria Swanson, Carol Channing, Katharine Hepburn, and Joan Crawford, which became the drag queen canon. His act was centered on wit rather than accurate mimicry, though it was often said that he looked more like Joan Collins than did Joan Collins herself. Carol Channing once said that "He did Carol Channing better than I did."

He performed at many clubs in New York, including The Village Gate, Ted Hook's BackStage, The Ballroom, and Freddy's Supper Club.

He was a guest actor on an episode of TV's Wonder Woman and played a cross-dressing villain in an episode of Laverne & Shirley ("Murder on the Moose Jaw Express"). Pierce also appeared on an early episode of the hit 80's TV sitcom Designing Women as a steward on a cruise ship. During the episode, he imitates Joan Collins (as the ship's waitress) and Bette Davis (as the ship's lounge entertainment). As Davis he quips: "Was that Joan Collins hustling the tables? One bitch on this boat is enough!"

He died in North Hollywood, California, aged 72, and was cremated. His ashes were interred in the Columbarium of Providence, Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.

In Bea Arthur's Tony Award-nominated one-woman show, Just Between Friends, which she played on Broadway and in London's West End, Arthur performs Pierce's favorite joke, A Mother's Ingenuity. It can be heard in the CD cast recording.

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Episode / segment Role Notes
1972 The Partners "Headlines for Higgenbottom" Pretty Boy Clyde TV series
1973 Love, American Style "Love and the Baby Derby" TV series
1977 Chico and the Man "Dress""The Dress" Brad Rushton TV series
Starsky and Hutch "Death in a Different Place" Sugar TV series
1978 Rabbit Test The Queen of England written and directed by Joan Rivers
Wonder Woman "Death in Disguise" Finley / Starker TV series
1980 Laverne & Shirley "Murder on the Moose Jaw Express", Parts 1 and 2 MacGuffin TV series
1982 Legends of the Silver Screen HBO Special; live at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Madame's Place "A Visit from Cousin Charlie" Charley / Bette Davis TV series
1983 Fame "Hail to the Chief" Bag Lady TV series
1987 Designing Women "Cruising" Claude TV series
1988 Gay Voices, Gay Legends Himself documentary
Torch Song Trilogy Bertha Venation
1989 DuckTales "The Good Muddahs" TV animated series (voice)
Spies and Lovers Granny Greenberg
1990 Nerds of a Feather
1991 The Butcher's Wife Beau
2006 Stardust: The Bette Davis Story Himself as Bette Davis TV documentary; archive footage
2009 Queer Icon: The Cult of Bette Davis Himself as Bette Davis documentary; archive footage

Discography[edit]

  • For Pierce'd Ears (live San Francisco performance), Wanda Records MP2101
  • Les Natali presents Charles Pierce. Recorded live at Bimbo's, San Francisco- Blue Thumb Records- BTS-30 -1970

References[edit]

External links[edit]