A 90-minute documentary starring Tony Award-nominee, Eve Best, and Tony Award-winner, Jefferson Mays. The film tells the story of Dolley Madison, who not only created the role of “First Lady”, but also established the young country’s political style. It was a style that expressed power and legitimacy in a new way – one that was fitting for the new republican form of government, and one that was a far cry from the political style used by the courts of Europe, with their courtiers, thrones and pomp.
Dolley Madison lived through the two wars that established this country, was friends with the first 12 Presidents, and watched America evolve from a struggling young republic to the first modern democracy in the world. When she died in 1849 at the age of 81 — one of the last remaining members of the founding generation — Washington City honored her with the largest state funeral the capital had ever seen for a woman, celebrating the life of the woman nicknamed “Queen Dolley.”
Born prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Dolley Payne grew up during a time when the country was striving to develop an identity. The daughter of strict Quaker parents, Dolley showed an early interest in what the Friends considered the evil temptations of the material world. Growing up in the capital city of Philadelphia presented many social opportunities for Dolley, but she acquiesced to her father’s wishes that she marry a young Quaker lawyer, John Todd. After only three years of marriage, though, Dolley’s husband died of Yellow Fever in an epidemic that also claimed her youngest son. Widowed and a single parent, she soon met U.S. Congressional Representative and leader of the then nascent Republican Party, James Madison. Four months later the couple married.
When James Madison became the fourth President of the United States in 1809, Dolley assumed the (then) ill-defined role of presidential wife.
Both America and its capital in Washington were still new and struggling to establish a national style. At that time, throughout the world, nations were ruled by kings and emperors. They communicated their power and legitimacy through bejeweled crowns and thrones. People bowed in their presence. How should a democratic republic express its power and legitimacy? How should a president act? These were all still unresolved questions when the Madisons came to Washington.
As the President’s wife, Dolley Madison created a uniquely American style—one that combined power with republican values. She presided over the first Inaugural Ball in Washington, opening it to the public; she took charge of transforming the President’s House into a public space that was both elegant and democratic; and as her successors have done ever since, she adopted a social cause of her own, raising funds for an orphanage and advocating for children left parentless by the War of 1812.
Over time Dolley Madison earned a reputation as a skillful diplomat, humanitarian, style icon, and politically savvy hostess. She defined the role of the President’s wife and became, in effect, America’s first First Lady, and in the process changed the face of the American presidency.
Dolley Madison stars Tony Award-nominee Eve Best (Nurse Jackie) as Dolley Madison and Tony Award-winner Jefferson Mays as James Madison (I Am My Own Wife). The program was filmed on location in Baltimore MD, Richmond and Montpelier VA, and in studios in New York City.
Behind the Scenes in the Dolley Madison Production Office
With Eve Best as Dolley Madison
Directed by Muffie Meyer
Program Executive Producer: Catherine Allan
Produced by Muffie Meyer and Julia Morrison
Written and Co-Produced by Ronald Blumer
Edited and Co-Produced by Sharon Sachs
Narrated by David Ogden Stiers
Director of Photography Tom Hurwitz, ASC
Costume Designer Candice Donnelly
Production Designers Andrew Jackness and Deborah Thomas
Original Music Composed by Mason Daring
Animation and Visual Fx Nth Degree Design & Visual fx Inc., Winter Garden, FL
Casting Director Paul Fouquet, CSA
Associate Producer Dianne Cleare
Researcher/Post Production Coordinator Jaclyn Lee
Eve Best Dolley Madison
Michael Cumpsty John Randolph
John Curless Anthony Merry
Mireille Enos Grand Niece
Danai Gurira Sarah Steward
Neal Huff Quaker Man
Dana Ivey Quaker Woman
Mark Joy Thomas Jefferson
Susan Lyons Elizabeth Merry
Jefferson Mays James Madison
Julia Morrison Catherine Coles
Brian Murray Journalist
Denis O’Hare Benjamin Latrobe
Jacinto Riddick Paul Jennings
For a full list of credits: