July 14, 1926 – May 31, 1999
Charles was one of the foremost drag queens of our time. Only second best to the wonderful Divine. His impersonation of Bette Davis was legendary. In fact, it was rumored that Bette was unavailable for some reworking of her lines in a film, and Charles was brought in to do the job. Don’t know if it’s true, but was a great rumor to have to your credit.
This in tow, he hated to be referred to as a “drag queen,” but as an actor. He once said, “I’m not doing it to be a woman. I’m doing it to be a star.” He shed his female clothing immediately upon leaving the stage, not wishing to “become the Liberace of the drag queen world.”
Towards his later years, Charles lived on Cartwright Avenue in North Hollywood.
Here’s his building.
I thank Findadeath.com friend Chad Jones for those pictures.
In 1997 – he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
He died on Monday, May 31, 1999, in his home. He was 73.
Charles’ funeral was held at the Church of the Hills, in Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, on June 19, 1999. He meticulously orchestrated the event, before he died. Conrad Bain spoke, as did Michael Kearns, Ted Reid and Allan Byrnes. Bea Arthur (his closest friend of 20 years) sang, accompanied by a harp. My friend and Findadeath.com friend Steve Smith attended the services – and provided us with this funeral program.
Of the service, Steve says, “Michael Kearns was a bore, Conrad Bain was a delight; Bea sang just a verse from a song and was given a resounding ovation (I don’t remember what song she sang from); and Jackie Altier sang “Smilin’ Through” an old hit of from the 40’s ; rather she screeched it. Besides Bea, Rip Taylor, Carole Cook and if I’m not mistaken, I vaguely remember queer Michael Jeter.
Oh, at the graveside service, yellow roses were handed out and I stood next to Bea.
According to Bea, there was not a dry eye in the house. She also said that the service was videotaped, and she said it was, “The best funeral video ever.” She still gets pretty choked up when you mention his name. Interestingly, there was a mention in one of the tabloids about Bea consulting a psychic to get in touch with Charles. When I asked her, well, disgusted ain’t the word. She denied it profusely.
He was cremated and his ashes are in the Columbarium of Providence, at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.
Trivia: If you ever saw the film, Torch Song Trilogy, it was Charles that played “Bertha Venation.” He also appeared in that Joan Rivers travesty, Rabbit Test, and on episodes of Designing Women and Laverne and Shirley.
Findadeath.com friend Beca sent this picture of Charles and Dorothy Lamour. Out of drag. Charles, that is. Thanks Beca!
This just in, January 2004, from Findadeath friend KR Larkin: Scott, I met Charles Pierce when he returned to his hometown of Watertown NY on a visit in the early ’70’s.
He appeared on a local cable access show, since he was considered to be quite the big time celebrity. (Watertown has expanded it’s claim to celebrity since, with the Badalotto brothers on the production end, actors Richard Greico, Mary Margaret Hume, and founding members of Blue Oyster Cult, Al and Joe Bouchard. But I digress.
Charles’ appearance on the local show was quite a stir for the small time tv studio. He was simply amazed at the low key hokiness of the cable tv studio. He obviously had worked in bigger, more glamorous surroundings, and yet he was completely professional, and funny as hell. He was, well, weird, and had put a lot of distance between him and small town northern New York.
He appeared as himself, dressed to the T, and I’ll always remember his purple suede shows. And his great sense of humor.
You got one weird site there Scott, but what the hell, it’s a free country. At least for a while yet. KR in SC
Thanks for the info, KR!
One thought on “Charles Pierce”
I remember Charles Pierce from a 1984 Halloween show at San Francisco’s Plush Room Cabaret in the Hotel York… a really TINY venue that normally seated about 60 people at bottle cap tables. That night it was SRO but instead of standing, I was squatting right at the edge of the stage, an 8″ platform decked out with black spray-painted Pumpkins sprinkled with glitter that clinged to anything close by, including my shirt.
Charles took the stage at 10pm and by then the room was stiflingly hot from the mass of bodies crammed elbow-to-asshole. I was literally 4′ away from his obviously expensive heels and was astonished when he made a comment about my own costume and asked what I was supposed to be! I answered “a great white hunter” since I was dressed complete with khaki puttees, a Sam Browne belt slung across my chest and a pith helmet clamped over a snow white wig Carol Channing would’ve adored. Charles gave me an imperious look and blurted, “Exactly what are you HUNTING for, Honey?”
He ran through his repetoire of classic dames in an all-too-brief 45 minute show and the crowd headed for the bar and a breath of fresh air before the headliner of the evening – Divine- was to hold court at midnight. Talk about a double-feature!
Divine was a HUGE disappointment, though [well, who COULD ever follow Charles Pierce?]. She appeared from a balcony above the equally-tiny lobby of the Hotel in a blood-red gown very similar to the one from PINK FLAMINGOS [might’ve even been the same one!]. Divi tossed several tasteless insults to the cheering crowd below as she gyrated and vogued for endless camera flashes before lip-synching a couple of numbers from a recent album. And then suddenly was gone. Divine’s appearance couldn’t have lasted more than 15 minutes. Maybe she had a better gig to get to.
BTW: the cost of that admission ticket [$55] was about the same as front-row seats to a pre-Broadway show at the Geary Theater starring a “big name” star like Lauren Bacall but still worth every cent!