Watching a 1998 documentary on You Tube (‘The Search for the Ruby Slippers’), and then reading THE RUBY SLIPPERS OF OZ (1989) by Rhys Thomas made for fascinating viewing and reading.
The Ruby slippers which JUDY GARLAND wore in The WIZARD OF OZ have been described as the holy grail of all Hollywood memorabilia.
Rhys Thomas’s excellent book explores the history of the famous shoes and tries to establish how many were made and how many survive.
At the heart of the story is the woeful way that studios cared so little for all their wonderful collections of artefacts.
Any classic Hollywood fan looks back at the 1970 auction at MGM with a feeling of sadness that a major part of Hollywood history was going to disappear forever, into the hands of private collectors.
At the time only Debbie Reynolds was talking about what seemed obvious to fans – why didn’t Hollywood have a museum celebrating its own history.As we know, Debbie herself bought many items at the auction.
Several pairs of the shoes were made , both for Judy and her stand-in.
How many exactly may never be known. What is known that while arranging the exhibition of costumes for the auction, costumer Kent Warner found more than one pair in the MGM vaults.
The story goes that Warner gave the auctioneers one pair ( not the best) , and that he kept the rest. All the costume/prop records were gone so couldn’t be checked.
Warner himself can be seen displaying the slippers at the auction in a 10 minute You Tube video (‘MGM Auction 1970 Video’).
The pair put up for auction were not in great condition but they sold for $15,000. This pair was donated to the Smithsonian museum in 1979 by an anonymous donor and went on permanent display at the Popular Culture wing of the National Museum of American History in Washington.
Roberta Bauman of Memphis got a surprise when she read about the sale of the Ruby slippers at the MGM auction.
Roberta thought there was only one pair , which she had won in an MGM competition through her school in 1940.
Roberta wrote to MGM for clarification but got no reply.
In 1988, Roberta auctioned her pair and they sold for $150,000.
Kent Warner recognised that the most valuable pair were called ‘the witch’s shoes’ – used in close-ups when seen on the feet of the wicked witch of the East ( after Dorothy’s house falls on her), and when Judy clicks her heels.
He eventually sold them through auction in 1981 for $12,000. This pair was resold in 1988 for $165,000. They were sold again for an undisclosed sum in 2012 and are now owned by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the proposed Academy Museum . This museum is scheduled for opening in 2017 and is located at a 1939 building on Wilshire Boulevard.
So, maybe,at last, Hollywood will have that museum Debbie Reynolds dreamed about.
Debbie Reynolds bought a pair of the slippers , called ‘the Arabian Test Pair’, from Kent Warner.
This pair , with elaborate curled toes, was designed by MGM’s chief costume designer, Gilbert Adrian , but they were rejected as not appropriate for Dorothy. Adrian re-designed them and added bows. They were worn by Judy in costume tests.
When Debbie sold them in 2011, the price was half a million dollars!
In this photo,Judy has two different shoes on, one being the ‘Arabian’ style.
Yet another pair of the shoes was owned by Michael Shaw and again came from Kent Warner. This pair was on loan in 2005 to the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids,Minnesota. The shoes were stolen and have never been seen again.
In 2015 an anonymous fan from Arizona put up a reward of $1 million for the return of the shoes. But they were never recovered .
(The small,non-profit Garland museum is at http://www.judygarlandmuseum.com)
The museum has an annual Wizard of Oz Festival and a new documentary,The Slippers, was due to be premiered there in June 2016.
In L.Frank Baum’s book, the magical shoes were in fact silver, but for technicolor purposes, they became red in the movie, made with sequins dyed a deep crimson red.
And a final piece of information about the shoes – some pairs had a layer of orange felt on the soles – done to muffle the sounds on the plywood yellow brick road. The pair called ‘the witch ‘s shoes’ didn’t have this felt which added to the belief that they were for close-ups only.
Are the Ruby slippers the most sought-after and expensive of Hollywood memorabilia? If you could choose, what would you want to own from any of your favorite films?
I’d take the key from NOTORIOUS.
The clock in HIGH NOON
Ida LUPINO’s piano in ROAD HOUSE
The double headed coin in ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS
Sterling Hayden’s guitar in JOHNNY GUITAR
Eve’s Sarah Siddons award in ALL ABOUT EVE
The box in KISS ME DEADLY
Greer Garson’s Harry Lauder stick in RANDOM HARVEST
Anything from DOUBLE INDEMNITY!