You can call me an impersonator, an impressionist, a mimic, or a comic in a dress. But not a drag queen! A drag queen is someone who dresses up and goes to a ball! I'm an entertainer.
Charles Pierce was one of the great female impersonators, famed for his hilarious recreations of the great Hollywood stars such as Mae West, Tallulah Bankhead, Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn and especially, Bette Davis.
Starting out as radio actor in New York, where he began doing vocal impressions of movie actresses, he moved to San Francisco and starting working the clubs [in the 1950s] where he was faced with homophobia and the challenge of doing his act against a myriad of cross-dressing ordinances - sometimes having to do his routines in a tuxedo, with an array of hats, boas and handbags. With touring, as his fame grew and times changed, the act became more sophisticated and elaborate with props, fabulous make-up, wigs and costumes changes. He was popular with the Hollywood stars he so often mimicked.
By the 1990s, although he had become a cabaret legend, he began to perform less as his act, which was so reliant on campy vaudeville humour and the bitchy goddesses of Hollywood's golden age, fell out of favour with younger gay audiences, who either didn't get it or found his act dated and sexist.
Pierce made a number of TV appearances, not always in drag, and made a notable appearance in Torch Song Trilogy (1988) as Bertha Venation.
'The Master and Mistress of Surprise and Disguise' died of cancer at his home in North Hollywood. His ashes are interred at Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery.