Today, a pair of the ruby slippers will be sold at auction. Not just any pair, but those worn by Judy Garland when Glinda magics them off the Wicked Witch of the East’s feet and proclaims, ‘There they are, and there they’ll stay,’ they are the most pristine, and best made, of the five pairs known to exist from the production, and the only pair to not have felt adhered to the forward foundation. They are in excellent condition but not untouched by time.

As an ardent fan of the film, Judy Garland, and the slippers themselves, I’ve revelled in the release of new photographs of the slippers in the past few months, along with the opportunity, due to the slippers’ short tour to Solange Azagury-Partridge stores in Los Angeles, London, and New York, to see the slippers for myself.

But, while I’m excited by these prospects, and immensely glad to have had the opportunity to stare at them myself for over three hours in London, the idea of the auction still leaves me feeling quite sad indeed. These shoes are iconic, in the truest sense. They have been said to be the single most valuable piece of Hollywood memorabilia in the world, and regarding sheer dollars and cents, that may well be true. But to me, they’re more.

The ruby slippers would be as valuable to me, if they had no monetary value at all, and as a pair of shoes, they very really don’t. After all, after 72 years, no human being could ever wear them again. Placing them on a human foot would very likely destroy them. Their value is in their connection; not in what they are, but in what they mean.

Entering Solange in London a few weeks ago, I was immediately struck dumb by the slippers, resting silently in a glass case, in the middle of the small boutique. Staring at them for only a moment, I had a flash of everything they mean to me, of memories of sitting in front of the television, of endless hours reading about every detail of the production, and even of (yes) running around in a glittery pair of red shoes as a child. But more than that, standing in their presence, knowing what they are, and who wore them, I felt like I was in the presence of some small part of Judy Garland’s legacy, almost as if, in some small way, she was there, and I almost began to cry.

Steve Wilson, the curator for the film collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin, which holds in its collection five of the gowns originally worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind, has said ‘[T]here’s nothing that captures the human aspect of film like a costume,’ and that is exactly what I experienced with the slippers. It was that moment of realization that the stories of the creation of The Wizard of Oz, Production 1060, are not just stories. This seems self-evident, of course, but I wasn’t alive then, so, for me, it only felt like a series of tales, rehashed over the years.

But rooted to that spot, staring at those shoes, I realized the filmmaking really happened, and Judy Garland really wore them. Of course, no one placed any value in the shoes then (they cost perhaps $13 at the time) and after the production they were placed in the loft of a barn on the MGM backlot, where they rested, largely forgotten, for thirty years, until costumer Kent Warner rediscovered them in 1970, and took them home. They were the pride and joy of his collection, as, like me, a fan of Judy Garland, and Classic Hollywood, until he was forced to sale them due to his own failing health.

But the slippers are not just valuable because Judy wore them; after all, her other costume pieces have sold for much less than the slippers will realize. They are valuable because they are the main plot device in perhaps the most beloved film in the world, seen by more people than any other. Their value is about us, about those of us who saw Oz as children, and still hold it close to our hearts. For others, they are nothing but a pair of gaudy shoes; for us, they hold a very real magic.

The shoes are not just, as so many have said, an abstract symbol of home, or fantasy, or family.  They are a very real symbol, of our own attachment to our own memories of Oz, of our own pasts. For me, that’s my childhood, entwined in Oz, as it were; being the Wicked Witch for Halloween, watching the film when I was recovering from heart surgery at the age of five, or receiving an Oz snow globe nearly every Christmas of my life.

The slippers are valuable to me because, in a very real way, they are part of my childhood, they are part of my life, they are part of me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that sentiment, because our popular culture becomes a very real part of our lives and our identities, which explains why they are so valuable, in so many ways, to so many people.

So, the idea that they will be sold, to the highest bidder, reduced to monetary value, breaks my heart a little. I realize we live in a capitalist society, and that’s just the way it works, but I’ve genuinely shed tears over the fact I can’t have them, save them, protect them. I want more than anything, to see the slippers in a museum. If whomever wins the slippers today should ever read this, please know, what you possess is not just a relic of Hollywood history; you own a symbol of a very real part of many people’s lives, and they want, if not deserve, to see them.

My greatest fear with the auction is not simply that they will be sold, but that, after today, they will seemingly disappear. Now, it’s not fair to say that they’ve always been on display. Kent Warner never displayed them publicly, and their most recent owner only did so intermittently, but I always knew who owned them, and had some idea where they were.  After today, like Michael Shaw’s stolen pair, they will quite possibly disappear from public consciousness for years, if not forever.

I hope I’m wrong, I hope with all my heart I’m wrong.

If you’re the lucky winner of the slippers, please prove me wrong. Display them for the public. Let them see them; let them love them. At the very least, please email me, if only so I’ll know they’re safe.

UPDATE:

After the slippers failed to meet the $2,000,000 reserve at the December 16th auction, they were privately sold, through Profiles in History, to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for their forthcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Personally, I could not think of a better place for the slippers to reside, back in the hands of the people who crafted them, safely protected for generations to come!

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(Image: Michael Shaw)

Prior to the night of August 27th -28th 2005, when this pair of ruby slippers was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, they were owned by Michael Shaw of Los Angeles.

According to Rhys Thomas, “During the 1980s, Shaw displayed his shoes at more than 25 shopping malls around the [United States]. Further, this pair was exhibited in a privately owned movie memorabilia museum in Hollywood, and occasionally dressed the windows of several small stores in the Los Angeles area” (Thomas 222).

Physically, the shoes were known to be “in very good condition, ” (222) with a slightly darker shade sequin, a rich burgundy, covering the shoes when compared with the other authentic pairs (222). Rhys Thomas believes this darker sequin suggests the shoes “might have been used for static and close-up shots” (222). However, the orange felt which covered the leather soles “elimat[es] the possibility that they were worn by Judy Garland during extra-close-up shots” (222).

Like the other pairs of slippers, “the red silk faille uppers and heels [were] covered with hand-sequined georgette, the leather soles [were] painted red, with orange felt adhered to the front foundation of each shoe” (from the toes to just past the ball of the foot) (Thomas, 222). At the writing of the Thomas book, in 1989, the bows were “perfect, missing no rhinestones, bugle beads or center jewels” (222) Like other pairs, the bow itself is crafted from strap leather dyed red.

(Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

The bows themselves appear to exactly cross match the  shoes held by the Smithsonian. While the right Smithsonian bow is notably more angular, the left bow on this pair is similarly shaped. The left Smithsonian, and  right Shaw bows also seem to match, which is particularly interesting given the dissimilarity of the sequins between the two pairs.

As Thomas previously established in the appendix to his book, the shoes themselves also cross-match with the Smithsonian pair. The right shoe, size 5C, bears the production number 5C 11859 D536, while the left shoe, size 5BC, has production number 5BC 15250 (225). Like that pair, “[i]nside the right shoe is the label, embossed in silver, reading Innes Shoe Co. Los Angeles, Pasadena, Hollywood” (222). Also identical to the Smithsonian shoes, “inscribed on the white kid [leather] lining [of each shoe, on the inner right side (when looking at the toes)], is the name Judy Garland, written neatly with black ink in block letters” (222). “The rubber cap on each heel [was also] painted red” (222) like all other pairs (except “Dorothy’s Shoes”).

(Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

These shoes were “privately purchased [by Michael Shaw] from Kent Warner” in 1970, “reportedly [for] $2,500” (Thomas, 222-223).

These slippers initially travelled to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, the birthplace of Judy Garland, in 1989 for both the 50th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz, and to celebrate what would have been Garland’s 67th birthday (Thomas, 223). Until 2005, Michael Shaw continued to offer them for public display around the country, exhibited on several occasions at the Judy Garland Museum.

As stated previously, it was there in August 2005 that the ruby slippers disappeared in the middle of the night. Meant to be on loan until September 5th, it seems that someone gained entry by breaking through an emergency exit door window at the back of the museum. The glass case that held the slippers was then smashed and the slippers removed. The building was at the time only two years old, equipped with the best security system available, able to warn a security firm when doors or windows were opened, or motion detected. The firm received no signal. The system seems to have been left unactivated.

(Image: Michael Shaw)

All other items in the museum, including other costume pieces from The Wizard of Oz, were left untouched.

They are the most famous, and valuable, shoes in all Hollywood history, and today, they could be anywhere. Although, I honestly doubt, given they have now been out of trained hands for over five years, that they exist today. At the very least, they are likely badly damaged today, possibly a far cry from their state in 2005.

In the hope that they may still exist, I would like to follow the Ruby Slipper Fan Club in issuing an open letter to the person, or persons, who may have the shoes today:

If you have the pair of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers described above, please be aware that these shoes were made in the autumn of 1938 and are today approximately 71 years old. They were not made to long endure past the six months of Oz’s shooting schedule, so it is quite amazing that the shoes actually still exist in the first place.  These shoes were fragile when they were newly created (as I can attest by my own efforts to replicate them), and  this is in part why so many copies of the shoes were made.

Due to their age and condition, the shoes should not be handled by bare hands.  Your skin’s natural oils can easily stress the threads, or damage the sequins, possibly removing the dye used to redden them. If one were to attempt to wear them at this point, the shoes would rip themselves apart.  They were crafted from a basic satin pump with the sequined georgette overlay. That overlay has many strands of sequins attached by a simple, single, thread – 71 year old thread, which is, understandably, extremely fragile.  If a single thread were to break, an entire row of sequins could easily work its way off the shoe.  The tissue paper inside the shoes should not be removed, as it is required to maintain the shape of the shoe.  Something as simple as taking the paper out could potentially cause the shoes to fall apart.

While it is clear that you do not respect Michael Shaw’s ownership, please understand you have something that millions of people love, and believe to be of inestimable cultural value. As such, please handle them with care.  As much as I do understand the desire to possess the shoes (as evidenced by my own efforts to replicate them), I still truly believe they are best placed in capable hands, able to preserve and share them with the public.

Please care for them, as they are worth more than you could ever imagine to millions of people.

(Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)