Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Last Drag

"I have no ambition to be the Liberace of the drag world. Why do I have to be described as 'Charles Pierce, female impersonator? Why not just 'Charles Pierce, actor?"
It was not easy for the critics to describe Charles' unique act, but when they did, he would happily appropriate the description. Apparently it was Herb Caen (in whose San Francisco Chronicle gossip column Charles appeared 50 times) who dubbed Charles a "male actress." Another description Pierce enjoyed was The Master and Mistress of Surprise or Disguise. When he played the Fairmont Venetian Room in the 1980s, the ads showed Charles as Bette Davis, holding a smouldering cigarette, with the caption, The Last Drag.

Charles' first stand-up comedy routines were naïvely costumed. In a radio interview in 1983, Charles said, "Through the years the act has had a lot of phases. I originally started in a tuxedo with a box of props. Then I started working clubs in Florida that required a lot of changes in material, so then I started working more or less in drag, and I say 'more or less' because Florida [laws] were very strict: You could wear black pants, you could wear a black turtle neck sweater, but you could not wear a dress. You could put feather boas on, and hats and gloves and pocketbooks, but you couldn't be in drag. And so we did a lot of pantomimes, and then I would do my 'live' material (maybe 10 minutes) at the end of that show. Eventually we ended up here in San Francisco (When I say 'we,' I refer to my partner at that time, Rio Dante), and we 'holed up' at the Gilded Cage for six years. We did a lot of pantomimes, and Mae West's [rock and roll] Treat Him Right was one of them."

Charles Pierce, the star of stars, we salute you!

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