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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Over the past week, I have ultimately remade the bow on the left shoe twice again before being satisfied with the result. Having now created several tests of the bow over the course of the past few months (three pairs?), I fully understand why every authentic bow is unique, with variations in shape and bead arrangement in each one. Even the Witch’s shoes, with their seemingly perfect bows (in comparison to all other pairs), are not identical to one another, particularly their individual bugle bead arrangements; the shoes I have crafted are no exception (but I did my best to make them as close to perfect duplicates as possible).

After finishing the bows, I gave the soles a once over, repainting them, since working on the shoes over the past year had caused spots of paint to rub off, and then added the orange felt to each of the forward foundations.

So, after nearly thirteen months of work, the replica ruby slippers are now finished. They certainly are a far cry from glitter, slip-on shoes, and construction paper, and they have been an amazingly revealing adventure! In replicating the shoes, you realize the exacting skill Adrian and his team populating the Wardrobe Department had. The studios were stockpiles of nothing more than raw talent in every department.

Gilbert Adrian

It is telling that these artisans crafted several copies of the slippers in a matter of no more than a few months (in various versions), while it took me over a year to craft a single pair! Granted, I came to this project with nothing more than the most basic sewing skills, those procured in your average home economics course. I’ve never taken a serious sewing course (although I’d genuinely love to!), so, I understandably had many moments of doubt, almost convinced the project would never be completed. That might explain why I sewed, and resewed, almost every detail of the slippers. I ultimately figured out how to sew the shoes by first making every possible mistake!

So, now, they’re finished. I had always intended to craft the slippers purely for myself for my own memorabilia collection (small as it is), but, having finished them, I would like to offer them for sale. If anyone is seriously interested in having the shoes, please feel free to contact me! I can almost guarantee they will be the only pair I will ever offer for public sale. While I am in the process of beginning a second pair, they, with little doubt, will remain with me!

Thank you to everyone who has taken this journey with me, and an even bigger thank you to the friends I’ve made along the way; it’s been longer than expected, and full of challenges, but the finished slippers have been very much worth the effort!

(Image: Library of Congress)

This is, possibly, the most prized pair of ruby slippers; they certainly are my personal favorite! They were originally found by Kent Warner, along with several of the other pairs already discussed, in the spring of 1970 (Thomas, 223), but unlike the others they are the pair he prized and “kept in his personal possession for more than a decade” (223). The slippers “are distinguished from other pairs of ruby slippers by their size – smaller than [all] others” (223) at 5B, with an ever so slightly higher heel, and sleeker toe. The shoes also “lack [the] orange felt on the soles of each shoe” (223) found on the front foundation of all other pairs.

(Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Rhys Thomas believes these attributes suggest “they are the pair of close-up or ‘insert’ s[l]ippers worn by Judy Garland when […] Dorothy taps her heels together three times” (223). While “Kent Warner certainly believed this[,]” it is not a sentiment I share. I strongly believe, and screen captures of the scene, along with details of the authentic shoes support, that the “no place like home” shoes are, in fact, not the “Witch’s Shoes.”

Physically, like all other screen-used pairs of ruby slippers, “the red faille uppers and heels [on this pair] are covered with hand-sequined georgette and the shoes are lined in white kid leather” (Thomas, 223). Unlike all other pairs of the slippers, the embossed label in the right shoe is heat stamped into the shoe in gold, rather than silver as found in the Smithsonian and Michael Shaw shoes. The label, like all others, “reads Innes Shoe Co. Los Angeles, Pasadena, Hollywood” (223). Each shoe “is inscribed on the lining [with] #7 Judy Garland, written in block-lettered black ink” (223), in what appears to be the same hand as the other pairs. While the Smithsonian and Michael Shaw pairs are both simply inscribed Judy Garland, the “Witch’s shoes” are the only pair of shoes to bare a number before Garland’s name. Its meaning is unknown. The “manufacturer’s number is written into the right shoe X 6802 5 [C] D 536” (223). The shoes “are in excellent condition”, which Thomas believes “suggest[s] little wear, if any” (223).

(Image: "The Wizard of Oz: The 50th Anniversary Pictorial History," pg 230)

According to Thomas, the shoes were found “by Kent Warner prior to the 1970 MGM auction” (223), in a place he alternatively called “an old soundstage, a barn, a place missing a roof,” “Ladies Character Wardrobe,” and “Mr. Culver’s Barn” (207). Regardless, Warner “spirited [them away] from the studio without the knowledge of the auctioneers” (223).

While “for years, few people knew of their existence” (Thomas, 223) Warner kept them “prominently displayed in [the corner of his] apartment” (94). There,  “[t]hey were on a square pedestal, about [four and a half] feet tall, […] covered in a Lucite box, [on] a little plastic stand to elevate them” (94).

Kent Warner - with Judy Garland (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Thomas has publically wondered, if, while in his possession, Warner didn’t alter “this pair of ruby slippers in any way. Did he find ‘circular suff marks’ on their soles, or put them there; were they really the seventh pair of slippers or did he write #7 Judy Garland in them?” Personally, I find the scuffmarks suspect, as I firmly believe this pair was not used in that sequence. The number is equally suspect, given its dissimilarity to other pairs.

(Image: Source Unknown)

Warner first “publically acknowledged possession of the slippers in 1977” (Thomas, 223), and “first attempt[ed] to sell them […] in December, 1980, when [he] offered [them] at a movie memorabilia auction held at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles” (223-24). Warner expected the shoes to sell for “as much $75,000. But, prudently, he set a $20,000 minimum. They didn’t sell” (“Treasure”). A year later, Warner again “consigned the shoes to public auction at Christie’s East, where they sold for $12,000 on October 21, 1981 to an anonymous buyer in northern California” (Thomas, 224). Eight years later, “[o]n August 9, 1988, the buyer [again] offered the shoes for sale at Christie’s” (224) “shortly after the sale of Roberta Bauman’s pair” (“Treasure”). Christie’s “arranged a private sale” (“Treasure”) which “matched sealed bids[,] and for $165,000 they were purchased by Philip Samuels of St. Louis, Missouri” (224).

(Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)

Resequined Replica Slippers

Dissatisfied with the sequining work shown in the photographs found in the previous post, I decided to remove much of the sequining work and resew it. Ultimately I’ve removed some 80% or so of the work, leaving only a small portion of the toe, as shown below. Everything in blue has been removed and resewn, while the portion in red has been left.

(Alteration of Tod Machin diagram to show sequining progress)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve previously removed, and resewn, a great deal of the sequining work. However, this was only one or, at most, two strands at a time. But, examining the work recently, I was disappointed with the vast majority of it, and decided to remove a great deal of it (which itself took hours, as the sequins had to be removed just as meticulously as they were applied, to avoid damaging the underlying georgette)!

Much of this was due to my own ignorance when I began of exactly how to work with the sequins to create the uniform fish-scale like pattern found on the original shoes. Particularly I had issues with determining the spacing between each string of sequins so they both don’t look jumbled, nor show gaps of georgette (a radical aesthetic difference that can often be determined by moving a stitch a millimeter, or less). I also had issues in determining how far the lowest sequins above the soles on each toe should hang, which is particularly problematic since I am stitching from the sole up the side of the shoe, so placement of the initial stitch determines how the entire row will ultimately hang. Initially I had these sequins hanging low enough that they were actually touching the surface on which the shoes sat. While the shoes themselves are not the best source of information in this area due to their deterioration, many of my initial strands simply looked very, very wrong, which an examination of photos of the Witch’s Shoes only confirmed. Feeling a few strands (at the least) had to be redone, I removed them. Once the shoes were completed, these small discrepancies would have only worked to make me further displeased, so, ultimately, I was left no choice but to simply start over again.

I had found, as anyone working on a project for an extended period is bound to, that first attempts are not always the best, and technique is honed over time. Practice, as they say, makes perfect. But still, I have to admit, even now as I have been resewing the sequins, there are few strands I have sewn in a single attempt. Many lines have been sewn, only to be removed and resewn, often due to my displeasure at a single sequin. I realise many people would have been perfectly pleased with the first attempt. But I’m a perfectionist, and I ultimately want these shoes to please no one more than myself, a tall order, even I acknowledge!

I will soon post updated photographs of the left shoe once I have completed the resequining. I expect the first shoe to be completed in around a week. In redoing much of the work, while it may seem to some time-consuming and, potentially, unnecessary, it has yielded (I believe) a shoe that reproduces the sequining pattern on the left Smithsonian shoe almost identically, with a neatness which (I feel) gives them an air of the Witch’s shoes.

I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Resequined Replica Slippers

(NOTE: Much of the technique described above would later prove faulty, and has since been revised, as the shoes were later entirely stripped and resequined. This post, and others like it, remain to accurately reflect my full experience of replicating the slippers.)

Left Shoe, Partially Sequined

Over the past month I have been, slowly but surely, working on sequining the left shoe, using the round blood red translucent 5mm (3/16ths inch) Schrum sequins which are identical to the sequins found today on the authentic slippers. While some believe the authentic sequins were not originally translucent, but have become so due to wear, and were rather a dark, metallic red in 1938, I have always intended to make the shoes as they appear today and have chosen to use the translucent sequins to accomplish this.

Regardless the sequins, sewing them is an agonizingly slow process, about which I am making discoveries, and therefore adjustments, as I work. Therefore, I have removed and resewn a great many of the sequins in the process.

Replication Left Toe

In the meantime, it is suffice to say, I have used detailed photographs of both the Witch’s shoes and the Smithsonian shoes as the basis for the sequining, the best of which are posted below.

These photographs of the Witch’s shoes are my own image captures from A&E’s special on the shoes: “Treasure: The Search for the Ruby Slippers.”

Left Witch's Shoe (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Left Witch's Shoe (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

 

Witch's Shoe Bow Detail (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Right Witch's Shoe (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Right Witch's Shoe Heel (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Right Witch's Shoe (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Witch's Shoe Toe (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Witch's Shoe Sequining (Image courtesy A&E Television Networks)

Witch's Shoes (Image: The Wizard of Oz: The 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, pg 230)

An extremelly detailed version of the above photograph of the Witch’s shoes can be found on page 230 of The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, although the book, erroneously, labels them as the Roberta Bauman pair.

The following photographs of the Smithsonian pair have proven useful. I’ve focused on the left Smithsonian shoe for sequining the shoe, as the right shoe seems to have either been badly sequined in 1938, or has aged much more rapidly than any of the other shoes. Almost all of these photos were originally found on  The Costumer’s Guide to Movie Costumes, and are reproduced here with permission.

Toe of Left Smithsonian Shoe (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Left Smithsonian Shoe (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Heel Left Smithsonian Shoe (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

Heels of the Smithsonian Shoes (Image: The Costumer's Guide to Movie Costumes)

"Witch's Shoes" (Image: The Wizard of Oz - The 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, pg 230)

They need no explanation. Everyone knows what they are, who wore them, what they need. They are the indelible icon of a uniquely American fairy tale, an enduring symbol of the power of belief. They’re also worth a fortune, which is power in itself. But, even more, they are objects of obsession. The Wicked Witch of the West was certainly obsessed by them, and possessed by the promise of their power. But the charm and magic of Dorothy’s shoes goes far beyond the pages of a book, or scenes of a movie. They have assumed a power of their own that is very real…

– Rhys Thomas (A&E’s “Treasure: The Search for the Ruby Slippers”)

Sitting silently in a museum, Judy Garland’s ruby slippers are so much more than a “frumpy pair of sequined shoes,” encrusted, as they are, with more than sequins, rhinestones, and bugle beads. They are an icon of American popular culture, a true national treasure, and not insignificantly, the single most valuable piece of Hollywood memorabilia in existance.

Bauman Ruby Slippers (Photo: Christie's East)

I first saw them, Roberta Bauman’s size 6B ruby slippers, in person, at seven, in the summer of 1992 at the then Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida. I honestly remember little else from the trip, but I do remember turning the corner in the line, within Disney’s replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, and seeing the shoes sitting on a pedestal behind glass, almost at my own eye level. I stared at them, transfixed, as we weaved our way through the line to the “Great Movie Ride.”

I again saw a pair of the slippers at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. five years later. Upon this latter instance I remember pressing my face to the glass trying to take in every detail of the shoes I knew so well, taking enough photos to exhaust my disposable camera. I believe I lost the camera on the trip home and never developed the photos, and yet, I didn’t need them. As I remember it, I was already obsessed with Judy Garland’s ruby slippers. I was twelve, and I wanted them for my own. But construction paper and glitter can only get one so close!

Eleven years later, upon a more recent trip to Washington, D.C., I did much the same again, taking in every detail, pressing my face against the glass, while I’m sure several dozen people looked, perhaps rightfully, at me quite amused. But I, nevertheless, wanted to know everything about those slippers and take in every detail!

The "Witch's Shoes," owned by Phillip Samuels (Photo: Robert Yudysky)

Importantly, while nearly everyone knows what the ruby slippers are, few people know what they actually look like, and I’m sure many people, while enjoying the film, couldn’t care less. I am not, nor have I clearly ever been, one of those people. The purpose of this blog is to examine the various pairs of ruby slippers, given the photographs and information to be found online, in books, and in my own collection, along with the film itself, in an effort to, as closely as is possible, replicate them.

As niche as such a desire may sound, and it may be so, I am, nevertheless, well aware I am far from alone in wanting a pair of ruby slippers of my own. Before we begin, let me explain exactly what my goal is:

I will, as close as is possible, replicate Judy Garland’s ruby slippers, not as they appear in the film, as to do so would result in shoes far from the authentic pairs still in existence, given the alterations required to produce deep rich colors for the Technocolor camera. Rather, I will strive to reproduce the shoes as they appear today, a little worse for wear, but still as magical as the day they were created. Like the originals, it is my intention to hand-sew, rather than glue, each individual sequin to a pair of custom made replica pumps, created to the exact measure of the originals.

While the existant pairs of slippers are each a slightly different size, my shoes will be a size 5B, the same as the slippers known today as the “Witch’s Shoes,” owned by Phillip Samuels, which are widely believed to be the close-up, or insert pair.

Of the other pairs, the Landini / Bauman /  Elkouby pair is larger than the others at 6B, and therefore some believe they may have been worn by Judy Garland’s stand-in. Others believe they may have been worn by Garland during dancing sequences. She did wear 6B shoes in adult life, so both are possibilities. The Smithsonian’s pair is 5C, and 5BC (the two shoes are not a matching set), while Michael Shaw’s stolen pair is similarly (if oppositely) sized. The serial numbers in the shoes do, however, cross match. Evidence suggests they were mismatched in the sequining process.

The "Witch's Shoes," as worn by Judy Garland (Image: Time Warner / Warner Bros.)

Importantly, each pair of authentic shoes differ in various ways, from size, to heel height, to specific bead arrangement and shape of the bows, as will be examined in upcoming posts. Therefore, my resultant ruby slippers will be, more than a direct replica of any single pair of slippers, rather a composite replica taking up aspects of each pair, but it is my hope in replicating them to preserve some spark of what I remember upon first seeing them at seven, and in sharing my own experience of replicating the shoes I hope only that it may serve, in some small way, to assist others with a similar desire.