Restored by our team for Arrow Academy, Magnificent Doll details the life of the historical political figure, Dolley Payne Madison.
Academy Award winner Ginger Rogers plays Dolley, wife of American president James Madison, who did much to define the role of the First Lady. In this Frank Borzage feature, we see Dolley courted by both her future husband and Senator Aaron Burr; Dolley keeps her eyes on the prize, however, toying with her suitor’s affections in order to influence the upcoming presidential election, right before bagging the First Lady spot for herself!
The real Dolley was born in 1768 and was widowed at age 25 by a yellow fever epidemic which also killed her 3-month-old son. With her surviving son she went on to meet her second husband, James Madison, to whom she was possibly introduced by Aaron Burr. When widower Thomas Jefferson was elected president he asked James Madison to be his secretary of state, and Dolley served as the president’s hostess for official duties while also helping to furnish the White House. When Jefferson retired, Madison succeeded him as president and Dolley became the official First Lady of the United States of America.
During the War of 1812, the British invaded Washington DC and burned many government buildings including the White House where Dolley and her family lived. Madison and his government fled to Brookeville, a small down in Maryland that is still know to this day as “United States Capital for a Day”. Shortly after fleeing, Madison wrote to Dolley to tell her to prepare to flee their home. Dolley ordered that the famous Lansdowne painting of George Washington be saved from the British, as documented in a letter she wrote to her sister:
“Our kind friend Mr. Carroll has come to hasten my departure, and in a very bad humor with me, because I insist on waiting until the large picture of General Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall…the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen from New York for safe keeping.”
Dolley was hailed as a national hero for rescuing the painting, and has been since portrayed as the one to remove the painting from the wall. Historians have stated that the house slaves were the ones to actually remove the painting from the wall; as Paul Jennings, Madison’s personal slave, wrote in his memoir after buying his own freedom:
“She had no time for doing it. It would have required a ladder to get it down. All she carried off was the silver in her reticule, as the British were thought to be but a few squares off, and were expected any moment.”
The British occupation of Washington DC only lasted 26 hours, as a heavy storm now known as the “Storm that saved Washington” extinguished the fires. The British returned to their badly damaged ships and Americans returned to the city.
You can get your copy of Magnificent Doll now on Blu-ray by clicking here.