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Dorothy's Slippers Take to the Road

January 09, 1996|JACQUELINE TRESCOTT | THE WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — The "ruby slippers" worn by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz" are headed down a transcontinental brick road.

Without much ceremony and in a shuttered museum, curators of the Smithsonian Institution took the famed slippers off their pedestal Friday and prepared them for a two-year trip around the country.

Before the shoes were actually crated for transport, however, country star Trisha Yearwood stopped by the National Museum of American History to tape a vignette about the movie's memorabilia.

"Like a lot of girls, probably 'The Wizard of Oz' was one of my favorite childhood movies. In grade school I played Dorothy, had my own checked dress and ruby slippers," she recalled. "Over the Rainbow," the song that garnered "Oz" its only Oscar, has become a standard part of her act.

So there she was on a quiet afternoon, the day after getting two Grammy nominations, standing right by the shoes and within arm's reach of the original Scarecrow costume.

"I think I'm upstaged by the ruby slippers," she said as the camera lights picked up their sparkle. "I really wanted to touch them, and I had to keep reminding myself I wasn't supposed to."

Yearwood is one of many celebrities who are appearing in a series of Smithsonian "Minutes" that will air on CBS this year in honor of the institution's 150th anniversary. Jesse Jackson Sr. also jetted in Friday to film a talk about the Greensboro, N.C., lunch counter that was the site of an early integration protest. That artifact is not slated to go on the road.

The anniversary exhibition contains 300 items and is the largest traveling show ever organized by a museum. It opens at the Los Angeles Convention Center Feb. 9, then travels to Kansas City, Mo., and 10 other cities.

The red-sequined pedi-icons were donated to the Smithsonian in 1979 by an unidentified group that purchased them from the MGM studios. "Oz," released in 1939, was the first movie to use Technicolor, and the production team thought the original silver shoes paled against the yellow brick road. So they were converted to "ruby." Now the sequins are cracking, and the thread holding them is weakening.

When David Shayt, the collections specialist, put on his white gloves and gently lifted the slippers into a tissue-lined box, he placed one heel to the other toe. They didn't click--once, twice or three times.

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