Banner for Irving Berlin's "This Is The Army." starring ronald reagan
Via Warner Bros

This Ronald Reagan WWII Propaganda Film Features Patriotic Drag!

Performing in drag is as American as apple pie!

Much of the Republican party’s recent anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has been centered around drag shows and the demonization of those who perform them. Tennessee has already banned drag shows, and many other states are looking to follow suit.

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But what if I were to tell you that Republican idol, Ronald Reagan, once starred in a film that featured multiple scenes of drag? Not only that, but the men performing in drag were active US soldiers in World War II who were raising money for the army?

Let me introduce you to the 1943 film, This Is the Army.

The film was made as propaganda/fundraising for the US army during WWII. It featured actual soldiers dressing in drag for multiple scenes, for crowds of adults and children alike. And not one, but two Republican politicians were in the movie: Ronald Reagan (yes, that Ronald Reagan) and George Murphy (eventual senator for California).

This movie wasn’t even a small film. It was the highest-grossing movie musical at the time, earning almost triple the earnings of The Wizard of Oz. It was only unseated by 1954’s White Christmas. And this movie won the Oscar for Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture), all while featuring popular Irving Berlin songs like “Mandy” and “God Bless America.”


Of course, this movie is still a product of its time. It has some pretty racist moments, even for the time period. A lot of the humor about the drag involves the conflating of crossdressing and being genderqueer.

The movie also features a “minstrel show segment,” AKA actual blackface. It’s made even more baffling by the fact that there are black actors/soldiers in the movie. This segment has been deleted from some film versions but was still present in the version I saw. There is no excuse for these segments, and I completely understand if anyone were to write off this film for these segments alone.

However, I think there is an important discussion to be had about the place of drag in America and how it has shifted and changed in the past 80 years.

Then vs now

Since the 1940s, drag has become a lot more associated with the queer community, and has thus been seen as something adult and/or sexual. While drag has always been a favored form of self-expression for the queer community, it is also a form of theatre that ought to be treated with as much respect as any other art form. This Is The Army understood that, featuring multiple forms of drag and even celebrity impressions of Lynn Fontanne.

Of course, conservative hypocrisy will always find reasons why it’s okay for conservative politicians to perform in drag but not for professional Queens to do story times for kids. But I think it’s important to remember that progress is not always linear through history. If we’re not careful, we can end up losing art forms that have massive cultural and historical significance. And we can lose the performers who made them art in the first place.

This film is now in the public domain, so if you want to look at the film’s drag performances, I’ve outlined them in the videos below.

(Featured image: Warner Bros.)

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Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.