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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

(It's possible that the workers in Mrs. Cluett's Beading Department tried making the shoes, likely producing the "Arabian test pair" and the "buggle bead" shoes. But the sequining process was probably too time consuming for the shorthanded seamstresses, and it was farmed out to Western Costume.)

Wearing Out the Shoes

Nobody knows how many pairs of ruby slippers were ordered--Western Costume has no billings and MGM's 1939 wardrobe records are long gone--but it is certain that Adrian, known best by his surname, didn't want to be caught on the production set, MGM's Stage 27, without a cherry pair of slippers for every scene.

Chances are, Adrian did not anticipate Garland needing as many pairs as Napoli would eventually make. Most productions require doubles, or triples, but Garland apparently wore the shoes out as fast as Napoli could make them. The more slippers Napoli made, the better he became at making them. It is no wonder that certain pairs of existing ruby slippers seem to be in much better shape than others; it stands to reason that the pairs made first were worn the most, and the pair made last should look the best.

Because of the rigors of color-testing and the era in which they were made, the ruby slippers are not easily duplicated today. The materials used are no longer easy to find and the alterations made on the production set complicated. According to experts, the ruby slippers can be authenticated through specific features:

All the ruby slippers are between Size 5 and 6, varying between B and D widths.

The basic pump was purchased from the "Innes Shoe Company of Los Angeles, Pasadena and Hollywood." Authentic ruby slippers bear the name of the manufacturer inside the right shoe of each pair, either a stitched label or embossed stamp.

Before sequining, the Innes shoes were covered with a rouge-colored silk--a French peaudesoie, or faille. The lining was a cream-colored, kid leather lining.

An overlay of gabardine swatches, covered with rows of hand-stitched sequins, were sewn directly to the shoe.

The bow was rimmed with rhinestones and had three large buggle beads in the middle.

The ruby-colored sequins were dyed a deep crimson red so they wouldn't appear orange on Technicolor film.

Orange felt was added to the soles of all the shoes Garland wore to muffle the sound of her footsteps on the "road." Only one known pair is without orange felt.

There is some controversy associated with size. When Roberta Bauman came forward with her ruby slippers after the MGM auction, some people said her pair belonged to a stand-in, because they were Size 6B, supposedly too large for Garland's feet. But the Smithsonian's slippers are Size 5C and later I would find slippers Size 5 1/2. The difference isn't great. There is also documented evidence from a 1978 San Francisco auction in which dozens of Garland's shoes were sold--Size 6 1/2.

Her feet were apparently within this size range. Adrian also had to consider that Garland's feet might swell while dancing under hot stage lights. It's also possible that Joe Napoli, simply bought the Innes Shoe Co. out of Size 5s so he purchased the 6B's. Bauman's pair definitely show wear and have the orange felt for dancing; it's doubtful they, or any of the other pairs, belonged exclusively, to any of Garland's stand-ins. More likely, Bauman's slippers were the second pair made and used primarily for dance scenes.

Joe Napoli's intricate beading, combined with the materials used by the Innes Shoe Co. in 1938, make the ruby slippers genuine period pieces. Once production ended, they were probably consigned to a storage rack, except for Bauman's, which were used for promotion, then became her prize.

In storage, the shoes would gather dust for 30 years--until Kent Warner found them.

Underground Secret

In August, 1977, Kent Warner told reporter Kathleen Hendrix of The Times' View section: "I'm the only person in the world who knows the story of the ruby slippers," laughing at his own words.

Warner had on display a beautiful pair of the slippers, Size 5B, in the living room of his old Hollywood garden apartment at the corner of Grace and Franklin. Some sources later said that they were the pair of slippers referred to as "the Witch's shoes." Each pair had its own identity, depending on how it was used in the movie; worth varied accordingly.

"It sounds so dramatic," Warner said about finding the shoes. "Everything was covered with cobwebs. It was hot, smelly, dark. A ray of sunlight picked up the glimmer of a sequin. I walked over. I didn't touch them. I blew the dust from them, the sequins appeared and I knew they were the ruby slippers."

Warner had told the story so many times, to so many different people, that he had it down pat. His mind romantically embellished the event, and he had different versions.

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