Charles Pierce (female impersonator)

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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 impersonation of Bette Davis.

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 managing 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 toured, his costuming became more elaborate, initially adding small props, later full costume and makeup changes. His imitations 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.

He performed at many clubs in New York, including The Village Gate, Ted Hook's OnStage, 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. At his funeral, Carol Channing spoke and said, "He did Carol Channing better than I did."[1] 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 soundtrack.



YearTitleEpisode / segmentRoleNotes
1972The Partners"Headlines for Higgenbottom"Pretty Boy ClydeTV series
1973Love, American Style"Love and the Baby Derby"TV series
1977Chico and the Man"The Dress"Brad RushtonTV series
Starsky and Hutch"Death in a Different Place"SugarTV series
1978Rabbit TestThe Queen of Englandwritten and directed by Joan Rivers
Wonder Woman"Death in Disguise"Finley / StarkerTV series
1980Laverne & Shirley"Murder on the Moose Jaw Express", Parts 1 and 2MacGuffinTV series
1982Legends of the Silver ScreenHBO Special; live at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Madame's Place"A Visit from Cousin Charlie"Charley / Bette DavisTV series
1983Fame"Hail to the Chief"Bag LadyTV series
1987Designing Women"Cruising"ClaudeTV series
1988Gay Voices, Gay LegendsHimselfdocumentary
Torch Song TrilogyBertha Venation
1989DuckTales"The Good Muddahs"TV animated series (voice)
Spies and LoversGranny Greenberg
1990Nerds of a Feather
1991The Butcher's WifeBeau
2006Stardust: The Bette Davis StoryHimself as Bette DavisTV documentary; archive footage
2009Queer Icon: The Cult of Bette DavisHimself as Bette Davisdocumentary; archive footage



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