BWW Review: KIRK FREDERICK Launches his WRITE THAT DOWN! at ONE Archives

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On Friday March 11 Kirk Frederick's new book Write That Down! The Comedy of Male Actress Charles Pierce was launched at ONE the Gay and Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries on North Adams in downtown Los Angeles. The sellout event was a benefit for ONE Archives. There were scrumptious hors d'oeuvres, followed by a presentation, which included a video slide montage, a 5 minute film clip from Pierce's appearance, in the early 80s, on The Dick Cavett Show, and then an interview with Kirk Frederick by moderator/ USC professor of English Chris Freeman. Then came a Q and A with the audience and a book signing.

ONE Archives is the oldest and largest, continually running LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) foundation in the country since its inception in 1952. It began with a magazine ONE, the first widely distributed publication on gays and lesbians in the US. ONE houses over 600 archival collections from activists, artists and ordinary people, as well as records from LGBTQ political, social, educational, and cultural organizations. The materials archived include manuscripts, photographs, letters, graphics, etc. It houses over 8,000 posters, picket signs, textiles, t-shirts, banners, flags and costumes, including smaller items such as buttons, dolls, and matchbooks. Audiovisual materials include over 4.000 films, 14,000 videos and 3,000 audio recordings. Many of the artifacts from the Charles Pierce collection, some displayed in photos below, are here. In fact, Kirk Frederick did his research for the book on site and has promised additional audio and video tapes from Pierce's collection in the near future, all of which will serve to educate future generations about the brilliance of Pierce's work onstage and on film.

PIERCE with pal Bea Arthur

During the one hour interview it was established that Pierce was a crossover artist. He began his career in underground gay clubs in San Francisco and then moved to bigger night club venues in Los Angeles and New York, even London. Reviewers who first called him "that gay entertainer' were starting to rethink it all, referring to him as 'that entertainer'. He was an internationally known impressionist, not a female impersonator or drag artist. He did impressions in costume of Mae West, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Carol Channing, Joan Collins, Jeanette McDonald, Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, Marlene Dietrich... but onstage only. After the performance he changed back to his male street clothes. He was an actor who called himself a male actress/female impressionist because he insisted on keeping that distinction...that it was his profession... onstage only. In his very own unique way, Pierce has educated the world about these famous women in a nonthreatening way. By watching him perform, young people will be naturally entertained and stimulated to hunt down the films of the icons themselves. When Pierce fist began his career in tiny clubs in the 60s, performers had to sign contracts pledging that they would not engage in homosexual activities. In the early 80s Pierce performed in concert at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to several sold out houses and was taped by Showtime to be watched by millions of fans worldwide. He came a long way, baby!

Actor/writer Frederick, who served as Charles Pierce's producer, stage manager, and dresser for the last 20 years of Pierce's career, got to know him better than most, so who better to write the book and tell the true story? The book contains Pierce's famous one-liners, his full routines as Better Davis/Tallulah Bankhead, and there's even an appendix with Pierce's own plan to write his autobiography. Eight chapters were completed before his untimely death in 1999...and they are all in the book, with his personal background and how he got into show business in the first place. Few know that he was a graduate of the Pasadena Playhouse School of Acting.

One monologue that Pierce used in many of his shows was the one spoken by Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve to Celeste Holm in the backseat of a car. It's all about what it means to be a woman. Pure feminism and with Charles Pierce reciting it, there's also the mark of gay liberation! Charles Pierce should be revered and remembered. I understand that the book will soon be made into a documentary. We're keeping our fingers crossed. Thank you, Kirk Frederick, for making the humor of Charles Pierce live forever.

THE AUTHOR

with English professor at USC Chris Freeman, who moderated and interviewed Kirk Frederick

Bette Davis Living Doll



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