Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Oz news! The Ruby Slippers are finally all accounted for!

Of all the existing costumes and props used in MGM's The Wizard of Oz—which will have its 80th anniversary next year—the most iconic have been the Ruby Slippers. Audiences thrill to see the sparkly red pumps on Judy Garland's feet throughout the film, at first taken from the Wicked Witch of the East, then given to Dorothy, which makes the Wicked Witch of the West target her. At the close of the film, Glinda reveals these very shoes were Dorothy's ticket home the entire time, having her tap her heels together and say the now iconic line, "There's no place like home."

The film had changed the shoes from the book's Silver Shoes, deciding that a sparkly red looked better than shiny grey. The effect was created by sewing sequins onto shoes made by the Innes Shoe Company of Los Angeles, dyed a dark red. In addition, bows studded with false glass gems were added.

No one knows how many pairs of shoes were made and used in the film. The producer once gave a figure of "from five to ten," a wardrobe department employee offered a number of six. The need for so many is easily explained. Judy's stand-in and double also needed pairs. Judy's feet would swell after filming in the morning and she would use a slightly larger pair later in the day. And if something happened to the shoes, if they became damaged, there would be a backup so the crew could simply change pairs and continue with filming. Some pairs had felt on the soles so when Judy had to dance, the felt would muffle the sound of them hitting the stage. At least one pair didn't have felt as the soles were seen in the film without them.

One test pair with a notably different design, including curled toes, is known to exist. Of however many pairs were made and used in the film, we only know about four pairs. Counting the test pair which wasn't used in the film, that makes five pairs.

These pairs were found by one Kent Warner as he was preparing for a major auction of MGM studio memorabilia. One of these were auctioned off in that auction for $15,000 in 1970. It seems that this is the pair that was recently conserved by the Smithsonian and will soon be back on display. Warner sold the test pair to Debbie Reynolds, and they were auctioned off in 2011. Another pair is in a private collection. Warner's own pair was eventually sold to a collector who used them for charitable purposes and let the Smithsonian display them as a substitute when their pair was elsewhere. This pair was sold in 2012 to become an asset for the upcoming museum by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Among the people who donated to purchase this pair were director Steven Spielberg and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

And so we come to the most scandalous pair. Collector Michael Shaw loaned his pair to the Judy Garland Museum of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Garland's hometown). In 2005, the pair was stolen with hardly a trace as to the culprit or where to find them. The theft caused a sensation for fans of the MGM film, Oz at large and Judy Garland. There were much publicized searches for the stolen shoes involving flooded mine shafts and other places. Theories flew wild, I even reviewed a novel that presented a first-person fictional account of the theft. A documentary about the Ruby Slippers and the case was made. Some believed Shaw needed money and was holding out for the insurance payout, and given that it had been so long, he did indeed get the payout. (I state this not to accuse Mr. Shaw who I genuinely believe was grieved over the loss, but to state a theory and the fact that the payout did occur.)

Oz fans got the news today that after thirteen years, the stolen pair had finally been recovered by the FBI. It seems arrests of the culprits have yet to be made, so the full details of the case have not been revealed. What has been revealed is that they were recovered in a sting operation over the summer, which resulted from an extortion attempt (a "we'll give them back if you pay us" situation). A conservator from the Smithsonian who had been working on their pair of Ruby Slippers assisted in authenticating the recovered goods.

It appears that the long term plan is to restore the slippers to public display, however as the investigation is ongoing, the FBI is holding them as evidence.

In some other news, it is the 40th anniversary of the film adaptation of The Wiz, starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. Looks like we're not getting a 40th anniversary 4K Blu-Ray or any special merchandise or reissues. To be fair, the film didn't recoup its budget, but it proved to be a big enough seller on home video that it was released on three Region 1 DVD editions (fullscreen, widescreen, anamorphic widescreen in 2008), and got upgraded to Blu-Ray in 2010, a fairly short time into the format's life. In addition, it's been subject to many airings on television as well as a handful of special film screenings.

And The Royal Blog of Oz would like your thoughts on the movie! We'd like to get a variety of perspectives on it. Love it? Like it? Hate it? Neutral? Let us know.

You can comment on this post or send an email to scarecrowandtinman2002@yahoo.com. Your commentary will be posted in a special blog entry and your name (or a pseudonym if you prefer, please specify) will appear with your comment. (I reserve the right to edit content appearing on the blog.) The plan is to release the blog within the next two weeks.

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