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The Ruby Slippers: A Journey to the Land of Oz

In September, 1986, Rhys Thomas was on MGM's Culver City lot (now Lorimar Studios) producing a segment for the "Hollywood Closeup" TV magazine series. His subject was the dismantling of an old script vault in the wake of Ted Turner's takeover of MGM. He happened across an original working draft of "The Wizard of Oz," written 50 years ago this year. As he turned the pages, he began to wonder whatever happened to the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in her curious journey through the Land of Oz. In the ensuing months Thomas talked to more people in an attempt to unravel the twisted history of the legendary shoes. As it turned out, he discovered that there were several pairs of shoes. Calendar learned of Thomas' pursuit of the slippers and commissioned him to write his story, never expecting that his search would become a personal obsession. This is the first of two articles. Next Sunday: The fake shoes and a Ruby Slipper feud. Plus Fred Astaire's shoes, Ginger Rogers' dresses , the haul from Burbank Studios.

March 13, 1988|RHYS THOMAS

In Baum's book, one of the Munchkins said to Dorothy, "The Witch of the East was proud of those silver shoes . . . and there is some charm connected with them; but what it is we never knew."

We never knew either, because the silver shoes were never seen on the silver screen. "The Wizard of Oz" was going to be big in every Hollywood sense of the word. Louis B. Mayer spent $3 million in the Depression to produce a movie using Kodak's expensive three-strip Technicolor film. He wasn't going to tolerate black-and-white shoes.

Sometime between May 14 and June 4 of 1938--the last recorded revision date marked on the cover of Langley's script--a Hollywood decision was made: The typed word silver was rubbed out and ruby written in. By the stroke of a hand, Dorothy Gale's silver shoes became Judy Garland's ruby slippers.

History has never been well served by Hollywood. When the producers of "The Wizard of Oz" changed Baum's silver to ruby, they probably didn't care that they were tampering with a literary metaphor. Typical of their generation, they were men more interested in storytelling than proselytizing. They probably didn't think about Baum's Oz being a political parable on turn-of-the-century Populism because they didn't recognize the historical importance of the silver shoes that they re-souled (see article on Page 7). Nor did they understand that the ruby slippers they created would assume a mysterious, material "charm" of their own.

Which Were the Fakes?

Imagine the surprise that Roberta Jeffries Bauman must have felt on May 18, 1970. She picked up her copy of her local Memphis (Tenn.) Press-Scimitar newspaper and read an article from Los Angeles that "the ruby red slippers . . . fetched $15,000" at an historic MGM auction!

Bauman had her own ruby slippers in her closet. She had won the pair in a 1940 contest.

"It was real exciting," said Bauman, now 64. "I called the paper right away and said, 'I have a pair of the ruby red slippers' and that's when all the commotion started."

Her story flashed across the country on the news wire: 30 years before, as a junior at Humes High School in Memphis, Roberta Jeffries had placed second in a contest sponsored by the National Four Star Club to pick the 10 best pictures of 1939, a year many film buffs consider Hollywood's finest. Her "Hollywood prize," as reported by the Memphis Commercial Appeal on Feb. 24, 1940, was "the red shoes worn by Judy Garland in 'The Wizard of Oz.' "

The slippers, part of a promotional display in New York, were sent to Memphis and presented to Bauman. For the next 30 years, Bauman said, "I kept showing the shoes at schools and libraries saying all the time that I was told these were from the film and Judy also had worn them." Today she keeps them safely in a bank security box.

Bauman was perplexed by the MGM auction in 1970: Who owned the real pair? Who had the fakes? She sent a certified letter to MGM asking about the authenticity of her shoes, and inquiring about the pair purchased by Richard Wonder, the representative of an anonymous "Southern California millionaire," at the auction.

She wrote: "Since Mr. Wonder paid such a price for the pair he got at the auction, I wanted to establish the fact if he had the original or do I have the original? To seek an honest answer would clarify the fact if I have been misled for these 30 years."

Ten days later the letter was returned, unanswered.

Last week, Bauman finally decided to sell her pair of ruby slippers. She signed a contract with Christie's East in New York, where they will be auctioned on June 21.

Why was she selling? "I have had them all these many years and I find it is time to pass them on to others to enjoy. . . . I have shown them to many school children, including my own. They have served my purpose."

Bauman's shoes are now in Christie's possession. The auction reserve--her lowest asking price--is not finalized. A Christie's representative expects the Size 6B slippers to sell for between $15,000 and $20,000, but when the auctioneers gavel falls, the going price could be considerably higher.

In a Turkish Towel

"I would guess she had to have six pairs of shoes."

--Billy Curtis, Lord High Mayor of Munchkinland

Judy Garland starred in "The Wizard of Oz" when she was 16. "I was a chubby little girl," she told UPI's Vernon Scott in a 1968 interview, a year before her death. "So they'd truss me up in a corset so I couldn't sing very well. They put caps on my teeth. They starved me to lose weight. They even put stuff in my nose to make it look different.

"I played little Dorothy Gale of Kansas in that picture, but I was tortured little Tillie during the whole damned thing. I don't know why they didn't go out and find a girl that looked like Dorothy instead of bending me out of shape for the part."

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