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Charles Pierce was one of the 20th century's foremost female impersonators, most notably for his portrayal of Bette Davis.
Born in Watertown, New York, on July 14, 1926, his show business career started at radio station WWNY by playing the organ and acting in radio dramas. Attired in a tuxedo, yet producing eerily convincing imitations of popular movie actresses, he branched out into a comedy routine. Despising the term "drag queen" he billed himself as a "male actress".
He started playing in small gay clubs, and his fame started to spread, so he moved to San Francisco, California where his act became well-known to Hollywood stars. The more popular he became, the more elaborate his costuming became. Starting slow, adding small props and later full makeup and costume changes. Other female impersonators started impersonating HIM, and his roles came to include Mae West, Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead, Carol Channing, Katherine Hepburn, Joan Crawford and Gloria Swanson. Rather than centering his act on accurate mimicry, he concentrated more on comedy, yet it has often been said that he looked more like Joan Collins than Joan Collins did herself. He worked many of the clubs in New York including Freddy's Supper Club, The Ballroom and the Village Gate.
Pierce made guest appearances on many Television shows during the 70'a and 80's. On an episode of Wonder Woman he was a guest actor and in an episode of Laverne & Shirley, he played a cross-dressing villan, as well as appearing on an early episode of Designing Women as a steward on a cruise ship. During this episode, he impersonates both Joan Collins and Bette Davis. In one particular scene as Bette Davis, he asks: "Was that Joan Collins I saw earlier? ONE bitch on this ship is enough!"
Charles Pierce passed away on May 31, 1999 at the age of 72 in North Hollywood, California. He was cremated and his ashes were interred at the Forest Lawn-Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.
The late Bea Arthur, in her Tony Award-nominated one-woman show, Just Between Friends, pays homage to Charles Pierce by performing his favorite joke, A Mother's Ingenuity. It can be heard in the CD soundtrack.