Fashioning a “Male Actress”: Charles Pierce

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Abstract

This research documents the fashioning of Charles Pierce, a prominent female impersonator in the mid-to-latetwentieth century. During his career of over forty years, Pierce delivered acclaimed comedic impressions of gay icons such as Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. This paper contextualizes and interprets the development of Pierce’s cross-dressing from tuxedo and a few woman’s fashion accessories (to avoid arrest) to full drag. Pierce’s career as self-styled “male actress” coincided with the gay liberation movement. Much has been written about drag, less about female impersonators, and no known research examining their costumes. This article thus provides a rare analysis of the material culture of female impersonation through Pierce’s costumes and accessories at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California plus the Charles Pierce papers at the Billy Rose Theater Division of the New York Library for the Performing Arts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-137
Number of pages17
JournalDress
Volume47
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021

Keywords

  • Charles Pierce
  • ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives
  • cross-dressing
  • drag
  • female impersonator
  • homosexual

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