In March 2023, left-leaning social media users across the internet shared a vintage photograph supposedly showing former U.S. President Ronald Reagan in drag.
"This is Ronald Reagan in drag! It's the only thing he ever did right," a Twitter user posted on March 24. Attached to the post was a photograph that showed three men standing on a stage wearing makeup and costumes.
This is Ronald Reagan in drag! It's the only thing he ever did right pic.twitter.com/6GSflRus2E
— Antifa witch (@loveyolife11) March 25, 2023
The claim was also posted on Facebook earlier the same day. It later spread to other social media platforms, like Reddit and TikTok. The Facebook group for The Other 98%, a left-leaning media nonprofit, posted the picture too, generating more than 8,600 reactions and 4,000 shares.
The photograph was real in that it authentically showed three people in drag makeup and clothes, but there's no evidence one of them was Reagan. They were soldiers during World War II and dressed up for the show, "This Is The Army," according to the National Park Service (NPS) and other sources.
In addition to NPS, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans published the picture online, citing the National Archives as its original source. On the websites for NPS and the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, the photograph's captions stated the soldiers were part of the United States Army Signal Corps, which is a branch of the Army responsible for communications. The identities of the soldiers weren't stated in the cutline.
We searched the National Archives' online database for the photograph and found it in their online catalog. It stated the photo was from 1942.
When we reached out, the archives said they did not have any further identifying information for those featured in the photo. We also reached out to the Motion Picture Branch of the archives, who said their best guess was that the information was found on the back of the photo, which was common practice at the time. They assumed no names were associated with the photo, or else that information would also have been added to the photo description.
Reagan did serve in the Army, but he was never part of the Signal Corps. According to the Reagan Presidential Library, Reagan first was ordered to active duty in 1942 and joined the San Francisco Port of Embarkation as a liaison officer.
He later joined the Army Air Force's First Motion Picture Unit and then the 18th Army Air Forces Base Unit, where he ended his active service in 1945. According to a research article from Brigham Young University researcher Doug Cunningham, the First Motion Picture Unit was created specifically to operate independently from the Signal Corps so that the Army Air Force could control its own cinematic image, as well as gain overall independence from the Army.
We reached out to the Reagan Presidential Library, which told us that the picture was not of Reagan but could provide us with no further information.
According to Friends of the National World War II Memorial, some gay soldiers found refuge from rigid gender roles at the time by performing as female characters in shows like "This Is The Army." Described in the book "Coming Out Under Fire" as the most famous Special Services' theater production during World War II, the show featured men who served in the military performing comic routines, dancing, singing, and impersonating female characters.
This was not the only photograph that social media users claimed to show Reagan in drag. A TikTok claimed that a man wearing a purple dress with a matching hat was also the former president. In reality, that man was Alan Manson, an actor who appeared in the 1943 movie adaptation of "This Is the Army."
That film did star Reagan. We found images from the movie, which you can view online for free at the time of publication. While some men acted as female characters in the film, the future president was not one of them.