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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

Former Smithsonian technician Susan Schreiber tried to authenticate the donated shoes. Auctioneer Weisz informed her by letter that "Dick Carroll, who physically handled the presentation of the wardrobe at the MGM sale, is best qualified with details." Weisz enclosed a copy of Carroll's own recollections.

"One day," Carroll wrote, "when the crew was preparing the wardrobe ensemble . . . one of the wardrobe men came to me with a pair of the red slippers. They told me that they had discovered the famous red slippers worn by Judy Garland in 'The Wizard of Oz' and that these were in fact the actual ones.

"The wardrobe woman who actually worked in that capacity on the original 'Wizard of Oz,' was working for us at the same time and authenticated the slippers. She said that six identical pairs had been made for Judy Garland and this was the only pair left. She had no idea where the others were." Kent Warner's name was not mentioned.

Carroll closed his letter to Weisz by adding, "I do not think the Smithsonian is interested in anything more than determining authenticity."

But later, in a letter to Roberta Bauman, the owner of the size 6B shoes, Schreiber wrote that her efforts to learn more from Weisz were "not very successful. The questions I asked remained unanswered, and they basically gave me the same information which appears in Harmetz's book."

Sizes 5 to 6, B to D

In the nation's largest subject card catalogue, located in the Library of Congress, I couldn't find a single reference to the ruby slippers--no historiography whatsoever. Only the Aljean Harmetz book details their peculiar origin. Numerous newspaper articles only scratch the surface, often repeating the same stories about the background of the shoes.

But at the Smithsonian's Division of Community Life, inside the ruby slipper file, is what looks like a college term paper. Titled "The Ruby Slippers," it was written six years ago by Tod Machin, 27, another person so keen on the red shoes that he's made his own replica--good enough, he feels, that only ruby slippers buffs would recognize them as fakes.

How expert is Machin on the subject? With the coming 50th anniversary of the 1939 release of "The Wizard of Oz," MGM, in association with the Turner Entertainment Co., has authorized the Franklin Mint to produce and sell a number of celebratory items including an "official portrait doll" of Judy Garland as Dorothy. "She's completely authentic," goes an advertisement for the $135 doll, "even her magical Ruby Slippers." But Tod Machin noticed that the Franklin Mint forgot to put bows on its version of Dorothy's shoes.

Machin, who purchased a doll, told me that "they shaped her ankles very well, but forgot the bow."

Machin, who does not own a real pair of the slippers, seems to be an objective authority. He became obsessed with the ruby slippers in 1982 when he saw a pair on display at a shopping mall in Wichita, Kan. He set out on what he called a "quest" to get as much information about them as he could. The result was the college term paper that is loaded with details. Each shoe, for instance, has approximately 2,300 sequins.

(An illustrator for the Kansas City Star, Machin's passion for the shoes is reflected in the drawing he did for Calendar at left.)

Machin's research also contradicts the Harmetz book, which reports that "Judy Garland's Ruby Slippers were made in Mrs. Cluett's Beading Department," presumably on the MGM lot in 1938. Machin contends the slippers were made by the venerable Western Costume Co. in Los Angeles.

More recent research revealed the following:

Gilbert Adrian, widely regarded as MGM's finest costume designer, first sketched pictures of the ruby slippers during the summer of 1938. By Halloween, two styles had been manufactured and were ready to color test on Garland's feet.

The first was a wildly jeweled, Arabian motif, with curling toes and heels. They looked great on the protruding stubs of the dead Wicked Witch of the East, but didn't quite fit the Kansas farm-girl image intended for Dorothy. These shoes are called the "Arabian test pair"; Kent Warner reportedly found them along with the other pairs.

The second style was a basic pump, with a bow and a baby French heel, covered with ruby red stones and sequins. The directors and producers approved the design, but this particular test pair proved too heavy because they were covered with red "buggle beads" to simulate rubies. They would have to use sequins.

According to former Western Costume employee Al Depardo, who worked there 39 years, it was a man named Joe Napoli, not the ladies of Mrs. Cluett's Beading Department, who actually made the shoes. Sally Nelson Harb, Western Costume's resident historian, recalled that Western president John Golden had attributed the ruby slippers to Napoli.

"I was 21 years old, a cutter, when they were made," said Depardo. "They were simple to duplicate." Napoli, according to Depardo, simply bought a pair of name brand pumps in Garland's size and added sequins.

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