Sunday, June 10, 2018

Ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz - Smithsonian Museum of American History - 2012-05-15

A pair of "ruby slippers" worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. (It's Garland's birthday today. The photos are by me. This is the pair at the Smithsonian.)

In the spring of 1970, MGM was selling off its entire collection of costumes, props, and vehicles in preparation for selling the studio backlot. Costume worker Kent Warner knew that MGM still owned four pairs of ruby slippers, as well as a curly-toed test pair. Although he'd been told to destroy all but one pair, Warner did not follow orders. Instead, he stole all but one pair. That pair was sold at auction by MGM for $15,000. The anonymous buyer later donated the pair to the Smithsonian in 1979.

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The slippers were designed by Adrian (aka Gilbert Adrian), MGM's chief costume designer. Adrian originally designed shoes with an Arabian look (the curly toes) and heavy red beads to imitate rubies. When producers felt this was inappropriate for a Kansas farm girl, Adrian designed a more sedate pair of shoes (using 2,400 red cellulose nitrate sequins for each shoe). Butterfly-shaped red leather bows covered in red sequins were added to each shoe just two weeks before shooting.

At least six and possibly seven pairs of shoes were made. The ruby slippers were probably manufactured in-house at MGM. The shoes are white silk pumps from the Innes Shoe Company in Los Angeles, dyed red. An overlay of burgundy-colored organza (a sheer silk fabric) was then sewn to the upper and to the heel. The burgundy sequins were then sewn to the overlay. Why burgundy and not ruby red? Because bright red sequins would have appeared orange on film stock of that era. A large rectangular red glass jewel was placed on each flute of the bow, with another added to the knot itself. Dark-red bugle beads were sewn to the bows, and the bows outlined in red glass rhinestones in silver settings. The bow itself was made of red strap leather.

Little actual documentation exists about which pair of shoes Garland wore, and when. She probably used only a single pair during filming, wearing replacement shoes as the main ones lost sequins or had to be repaired. It was once thought that the Smithsonian Institution pair were worn by Garland on the set, because they had orange felt on the sole (glued to them to deaden noise during filming). But we now know that all three pairs of the ruby slippers had orange felt glued to their soles. So it's impossible to know which pair were used more than the others.

The Smithsonian's ruby slippers are actually a mismatched pair, with a half-size difference between them. Because it's a mismatched pair, the bow on each slipper is also slightly different.

Ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz 02 - Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - 2012-05-15

Where are the other pairs?

* The 1940 Slippers -- These were the grand prize in a "Name the Best Movies of 1939" contest. Tennessee girl Roberta Bauman won them, and did not realize their value until 1979, displaying them out in the open at the local library, at church, at school... They were sold at auction in 1988 to Anthony Landini for $150,000. Landini auctioned them in 2000 for $666,000 to a syndicate led by Los Angeles memorabilia shop owner David Elkouby. They are not on display.

* The Witch's Shoes -- These pair were allegedly used on the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East. Warner himself kept this pair as a keepsake, because they were clearly in the best condition. As he lay dying of AIDS in 1981, he sold them at auction to an unknown buyer for $12,000. The anonymous buyer sold them in 1988 to Philip Samuels for $150,000. Samuels attempted to sell them for $2 million in 2011, but they failed to find a buyer. Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg led a syndicate of film industry insiders who purchased the shoes in 2012 on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who intend to display them in a forthcoming movie museum.

* The 5-1/2 Bs -- These shoes are different than the Smithsonian pair, because both shoes are a 5-1/2 B. Warner initially owned these, and sold them to Michael Shaw for an undisclosed sum in 1970. They were stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, on the night of August 27-28, 2005. They have never been recovered.

* The Arabian Shoes -- The curly-toed test shoes were either sold or given by Warner to actress Debbie Reynolds. They sold at auction in 2011 for $510,000 to an anonymous buyer.

Warner also saved (or stole) a vast number of other important props, costumes, and memorabilia from MGM. These include Dorothy's blue gingham dress, a sepia-toned Dorothy's dress (used for the black-and-white bookend scenes), Marilyn Monroe's little black dress from Some Like It Hot, Fred Astaire's tap shoes from Top Hat, and Humphrey Bogart's trench coat from Casablanca.

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