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Monday, March 1, 2010

Caught on Tape: Dolley Madison

Dolley Madison is one of our First Ladies that really doesn’t get as much attention as she should. As the wife of the 4th President, she essentially created the position of the First Lady. I have always admired everything that she did. With all of the “firsts” she brought to the position, her bravery during the War of 1812, and her connection with the founding of this country, it is amazing that she isn’t seen as more important than many other First Ladies. In all of my searching, I was only able to come across two films that focus on Mrs. Madison. It is almost as if these two movies are polar opposites of each other – and I think you will see why.

Magnificent Doll (1949)
“Dolly Payne is adored by two leaders of the fledgling American government, James Madison and Aaron Burr. She plays each against the other, not only for romantic reasons, but also to influence the shaping of the young country. By manipulating Burr's affections, she helps Thomas Jefferson win the presidency, and eventually she becomes First Lady of the land herself.” (from IMDB)
Ginger Rogers plays Dolley Madison. I haven’t seen this film but I can tell you from just the description it is nowhere near historically accurate – Dolley Madison was not interested in Aaron Burr romantically – but he did help her to meet James Madison – her future husband. This movie was not generally seen as one of Rogers' best movies – and she is considered to have been miscast as Dolley.

Here is the best clip I could find, which isn’t really saying much:

Dolley Madison: America’s First Lady (2010)
“As the wife of the fourth president, James Madison, Dolley Madison played an important part in the political and social experiment that was the early American Republic. Long before women held any overt political power, she used her unelected position to legitimize the nation's new capital, to create a political and social style for the new country and to give Americans a sense of their own national identity” (from PBS)
I have had the pleasure of seeing this movie on a preview from WGBH. It will premier tonight, March 1, 2010 on WGBH/PBS (check your local listings). While my review will be posted later this week, I can say that I think this was done VERY well. I think you can expect this to be done well coming from PBS. Very much historically accurate, all the words by the characters are actual words from letters and other primary sources. Dolley is played by Eve Best and she looks almost perfect as Dolley. I would say this is a must see for anyone interested in Mrs. Madison.  You can check out my review here.

If you have seen Magnificent Doll let me know how it is.

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I heard about this documentary and would love to see it! I'm not American but Dolly's story sounds intriguing! I have to say I do find your country's history to be fascinating! I wonder if you have added interest in her story with a name of Dolleygurl?! :)

  2. I really love this series.
    I had not heard of the new PBS show. Thank you


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