Because, because, because, because, because!… if you follow the grey tarmac road down Lark Lane, the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true. If you’ve ever dreamed of your very own ruby slippers, that is… or even just had a bit of a penchant for rainbows.
If only clicking our heels could take us back home so easily after a night out on the tiles – magical shoes certainly would be an advantage. Not just a pretty shoelace, eh?
The brilliant red ruby slippers from the 1939’s Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical motion picture ‘The Wizard of Oz’ have since become immortalised as shining stars in their own right, as iconic as Judy Garland playing Dorothy, who is fantastically transported back home to Kansas after three clicks of her heels in them. In Lyman Frank Baum’s original novel from 1900 – ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ – upon which the film was based, those glittering slippers weren’t ruby red at all, but silver. With the celebrated use of the revolutionary colour motion picture process ‘Technicolor’ in Hollywood at the time, particularly in musical features, the decision to turn the slippers red was suggested by screenwriter Noel Langley to exploit the highly saturated colour effects the process gave. The change in colour certainly took advantage of the fact that the brilliant red hue of the ruby slippers would spend considerable screen time against the vibrant yellow brick road, giving the vivid, dazzling effect that makes the film so magical. Surprisingly, the sequins are actually a darker red, a burgundy colour in the flesh, yet transformed by the magic wand of Technicolor to a remarkable vivid red. The shoes would have appeared orange on screen had they used actual bright red sequins.
The slippers themselves were brought into creation by the renowned Hollywood costume designer ‘Adrian’ (Gilbert Adrian), most famous for his costumes in The Wizard of Oz and other MGM features of the 30s and 40s. He first came up with an Arabian style curled toe slipper encrusted with real jewels, conceptually in keeping with the Wicked Witch character. However, it was felt they didn’t work for their ultimate transfer to homely farmgirl Dorothy and so they were rejected and redesigned as the bow adorned court heeled shoe that we know and love. The MGM wardrobe and props department used the sequins as an economic solution to mimic the glittering effect of real gemstones and precious jewels, in addition to the fact that the real deal is rather heavy. The ruby slipper was created from about a dozen materials, starting with a basic white silk pump from the Innes Shoe Co. in LA, lined with white kid leather. They were dyed red, then overlaid with burgundy sequinned organza, each sequin being sewn on by hand, all 2,300 of them – to each shoe.
It is speculated that there were perhaps up to ten pairs of slippers made for the production, all ranging between Size 5 and 6 and varying between B and D widths. Judy Garland is thought to have requested a slightly larger size to allow for dancing-induced swollen feet. The range of slippers also included orange felt-soled pairs for more practical use on set, designed to muffle sound during dance numbers. Today, however, only four pairs have been accounted for as authentic…
Years after their spellbinding screen appearance, the legend of one of Tinseltown’s most iconic items of memorabilia gathers speed. It seems several pairs were unearthed and ‘appropriated’ by costumer Kent Warner from storage in the MGM studio basement in 1970. One pair, sized ‘5B’, was kept for himself; another – the prototype Arabian style pair – was sold to memorabiliast and veteran Hollywood actress Debbie Reynolds; the third pair, sized ‘5C’, being sent to auction where they fetched $15,000. The anonymous bidder allegedly donated them to the Smithsonian Museum in 1979 where they have remained on near constant display to this day at the National Museum of American History and are familiarly known as “The People’s Shoes”. This particular pair bears two inscriptions: ‘#1 Judy Garland’ and ‘#6 Judy Garland’, thought to indicate mismatched widths to fit her size five feet. The fourth of the reputedly authentic pairs was originally owned by Roberta Bauman from Memphis, Tennessee, winning them when she was just 16 years old as a second place prize in the National Four Star Club “Name the Best Movies of 1939” contest. She received them in 1940 in a generic white cardboard shoe box.
After that, in the ensuing years, the intriguing story of the various slippers gets somewhat obscured and shrouded with enigma. In 2005, one pair (sized ‘51⁄2B’), on temporary loan from a collector, was stolen from a Minnesota museum and has never been recovered, despite an anonymous reward of $1 million being offered for any information pertaining to the theft. In 2011, singer and actor Lady Gaga was gifted a pair for her 25th birthday. A year later, a group of Hollywood elite including Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio chipped in together to purchase a pair to donate to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ collection. This particularly valuable pair – labelled “#7 Judy Garland” (aka the ‘Witch’s Shoes’, believed to be the ones taken from the feet of the dead Wicked Witch of the East) – are held in high regard for the belief they were also worn by Garland in the movie. And so, the intrigue continues to this day – from fake slippers, episodes of theft, rewards, auctions and preservation campaigns to appearances and disappearances, feuds, secrets, lies and semi-lies. It seems the ruby slippers are as mysterious and spellbinding in reality as much as they were imbued with magic on that dazzling technicolour screen… they’re certainly as powerful to us real folk as they were to the Wicked Witch, if only in their ability to induce envy. Magical shoes would top most wishlists, surely?