Magnificent Doll

1h 35m 1946

Brief Synopsis

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.

Film Details

Release Date
Nov 1946
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Hallmark Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
United States

Technical Specs

1h 35m
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
11 reels


In 1814, during the British invasion of Washington, D.C., Dorthea "Dolly" Payne Madison, wife of President James Madison, busily prepares an evacuation of the White House. While packing her belongings, Dolly recalls her journey to the White House, beginning in her youth, when her father, John Payne, returned to their home in Virginia after fighting in the Revolutionary War: Fulfilling a promise he made to a dying friend and fellow soldier, Payne sells his slaves, joins the Quaker faith, moves his family to Philadelphia and arranges the marriage of his daughter Dolly to John Todd, his friend's son. Dolly, however, dislikes her new husband, and though she eventually has a son by him, she resigns herself to a loveless marriage. Tragedy strikes when first Dolly's father and then her son die from yellow fever. Dolly eventually falls in love with John, but her affections come too late, as John, too, is killed by the deadly plague. The next two years prove to be lonely and bitter ones for Dolly and her mother, who live together in a large house. Dolly's mother eventually takes in a number boarders, including Aaron Burr, a Senator from New York, and Burr's friend, James Madison, a Congressman from Virginia. Burr and Madison, though close friends, are often at odds with each other, arguing about everything from politics to their common interest in Dolly. Dolly and Burr spark a romance, but Dolly soon discovers that he is an autocrat and begins to despise his politics. She later turns to Madison for companionship, and they fall in love. When Dolly tells Burr that she intends to marry Madison, he becomes enraged and forces her to kiss him, but Dolly soon marries Madison, and they move to Virginia. One day, Madison receives a request from Presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson to come to Washington, D.C. to work on his campaign. Madison accepts the offer, and he and Dolly spend their fifth wedding anniversary in Washington. The election results in a tie between Jefferson and his Vice-Presidential running-mate, Burr, and the responsibility of choosing the next president goes to the House of Representatives. Burr, meanwhile, makes a claim to the Presidency, but later changes his mind when Dolly persuades him to drop out. After winning the presidency, Jefferson appoints Madison as his Secretary of State and puts Dolly in charge of remodeling the President's home. Resenting his powerless position in government, Burr schemes to sabotage Jefferson's re-election bid. After Burr kills his political adversary, Alexander Hamilton, in a duel, he flees to Philadelphia, where he makes a failed attempt to order government troops into a battle to take the Southern states. Burr is later charged with murder and treason and becomes the object of public scorn. When an angry mob assembles outside Burr's door demanding that he be hanged, Dolly prevents Burr's lynching by telling the mob that the unrepentant Burr does not deserve to die a martyr. As the mob disperses, Madison arrives and proudly embraces his wife.


Ginger Rogers

Dorthea "Dolly" Payne Madison

David Niven

Aaron Burr

Burgess Meredith

James Madison

Peggy Wood

Mrs. Payne

Horace Mcnally

John Todd

Robert Barrat

Mr. John Payne

Grandon Rhodes

Thomas Jefferson

Frances Williams

Amy, the maid

Henri Letondal

Count D'Arignon

Joe Forte

Senator Ainsworth

Erville Alderson


George Barrows


Francis Mcdonald

Barber Jenks

Emmet Vogan

Mr. Gallentine

Arthur Space

Alexander Hamilton

Joseph Crehan


Byron Foulger


Jesse Graves


Larry Blake


Pierre Watkin


John Sheehan


Ruth Lee

Mrs. Gallentine

John Hamilton

Mr. Witherspoon

George Carleton


Harlan Tucker


Vivian Oakland

Mrs. Witherspoon

Olaf Hytten


Keith Richards

Captain Janis

Jack Ingram


Howard Negley


Sam Flint


William Gould


Boyd Irwin


Lee Phelps


Joe King


Vernon Downing


Brandon Hurst


Eddy C. Waller


Allen Wood


Perry Ivins


Ferris Taylor

Mr. Phillips

Lois Austin

Grace Phillips

Harlan Briggs


John Hines

Dr. Ellis

Elaine Lange


Laura Treadwell

Mrs. Galot

Jean Andren

Mrs. Adams

Stanley Blystone


Jamesson Shade


Mabel Forrest

Mrs. Mead

Frank Mayo

Armed guard

Jack George

Governor Stanley

Victor Zimmerman


Johnny Michaels


Jerry Jerome


Bill Chaney

Small boy

Mary Bye

Servant girl

Pierce Lyden

Watch leader

Ethan Laidlaw


Garnett Marks

Justice Drake

Carey Harrison

Senator Mason

Perc Launders

Watch member

Tay Dunn

Watch member

Howard Mitchell


Larry Steers


Dick Dickinson

Man who falls

Vera Burnett

Screaming woman

Grace Cunard

Woman with baby

Frank Erickson

Captain White

Tom Coleman

Mr. Carroll

Pietro Sosso

Mr. Anthony

Harry Denny

Mr. Calot

Billy Vernon


Al Hill

Stanley Price

Ann Lawrence

Geoffrey Ingham

Lee Slater

Don Mcgill

Mary Emery

Watson Downs

Parker Garvie

Bill Borzage

Betty Mcdonough

Jack Lorenz

Jack Gargan

Oliver Cross

Sandra Morgan

Beulah Christian

Lulu Mae Bohrman

Jack Richardson

Sam Ash

Film Details

Release Date
Nov 1946
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Hallmark Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
United States

Technical Specs

1h 35m
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
11 reels



The night before shooting was to start, a game of hide-and-seek was held during a party. Primula Niven (wife of 'Niven, David' ) opened a door she thought led to a closet and fell down the stairs to her death.


As depicted in the film, Dolley Payne Todd Madison (1768-1849), who was reared in Virginia by Quaker parents, rose to fame as a premiere White House hostess, during both the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and that of her second husband, James Madison. Although the CBCS list and reviews spell the heroine's name as "Dolly," the correct spelling was "Dolley." The New York Times review notes that, while many basic historical facts in the film are true, the subplot about a romantic rivalry between Madison and Aaron Burr, and the overall romanticized version of Dolley's life, are highly exaggerated. The duel between Burr and Alexander Hamilton which is depicted in the film took place on July 11, 1804. Hamilton died the next day. Burr was acquitted of treason in 1807 and died in 1836.
       Universal production notes add that writer Irving Stone purposely avoided repeating the well-known historical episode in which Dolley saved a portrait of George Washington and important state papers during the 1814 British attack on Washington. A January 1946 Hollywood Reporter article reports that Stone had originally intended to use his Dolley Madison research for a novel, but was persuaded by the producers to write an original screenplay instead. Stone had previously written several biographies, and, in 1946, sold the screen rights to five of his novels. Universal borrowed David Niven from Samuel Goldwyn's company for the film. In 1951, Universal entered into a legal battle with the Bank of America when the bank foreclosed its mortagages on several of the studio's films, including Magnificent Doll. In an unprecented move, Universal countered by launching a suit in which it asked to be found not liable for repayment. According to a December 1953 Variety article, however, the Bank of America was eventually awarded a cash judgment of over $134,000.