Monday, August 26, 2019

Dorothy's red slippers: The most iconic shoes in Hollywood's history

Why should the truth get in the way of a good fairy tale?

In the original Cinderella her shoes was made of fur but due to bad translation from the original French, became glass for the Disney movie. Dorothy (Gale) also had a costume change and did not wear Ruby slippers as seen in the film version of L.Frank Baum’s The wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), but wore silver shoes instead. Now we could not contemplate these classic shoes in any other way. They have left such a deep impression with fantasists and movie goers that there is an entire book written on the history of Dorothy’s shoes. The ruby slippers with 2,300 sequence have their own fan club and a number of websites all dedicated to Dorothy’s foot attire. But why?

Many experts believe the shoes represent a rite of passage, once mastered open new delights for the owner and all who love her. Red in fairy tales represents blood and changing the colour of her shoes to ruby red may have had symbolic significance. Shoes are often a metaphor for the vagina and the imagery suggests menstruation. The character does not look for the shoes neither is she aware of them (pre-pubescent). When Glinda puts the shoes on Dorothy's feet and says,

"There they are and there they'll stay."

At first the ruby slippers seem like blight as she tries to escape the Wicked Witch of the West, but eventually Dorothy comes to understand their magical power, just as a girl comes to understand the mysteries of reproduction. This is not dissimilar to the first pair of heeled pumps worn by a young teenager going to her high school ball and may well, at least in part, account for the phenomena which surrounds adult footwear. In the past fairy tales and nursery rhymes were written as political allegory. Baum denied his works were so, but many believe comparison to contemporary events would refute his claim. In Littlefield’s academic interpretation of the wonderful wizard of OZ he draws many examples of allegory. The original silver slippers take on significance as a disguised reference to the Silver Standard at the time. Populists wanted Americans to adapt both the silver and gold monetary standards (bimetallism) when the yellow metal (yellow brick) prevailed. Farmers joined the Popularist movement became virile political activists eager to promote "free silver" as a way of easing the money supply and giving them greater access to credit.

Dorothy’s shoes were designed by Gilbert Adrian (Greenberg). He used the surname 'Adrian' professionally and was MGM’s chief costume designer. The shoes were made by Innes Shoe Co., Los Angeles, Hollywood, Pasadena. It is debatable how many pairs of shoes were made for the film but most authorities agree there were five pairs accounted for with two others thought to exist. The shoes which appeared in the film were remarkably ordinary and had red silk faille sewn onto them with red hand sequined georgette attached to the silk. The shoe design did not contain real rubies. There were forty six rhinestones surrounding 42 bugle beads with three large red rectangular stones. The bow was cut out of strap leather, 1/8" thick and dyed red. The soles were painted red and had orange felt glued on the front foundation to reduce noise during the filming of the movie. There were rubber caps on each heel painted red and the inside of the shoes were lined in white kid leather. Colour film quality in the late thirties was inferior to today and the rubies are darker than appear on film.

One pair of the ruby slippers was donated in 1979 to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C and has been on permanent display ever since. This pair was worn by Judie Garland in her dance scenes and has the felt on the soles to muffle her dancing footsteps. These are known as the People’s Shoes. The other shoes are in the hands of private collectors and zealously guarded. Rarely do they come up for auction and when they do exchange hands for extraordinary prices.

In 2000, the original pair of Dorothy’s Shoes sent by MGM to New York to promote the film were auctioned at Christie’s East in New York and sold for $666,000 (US). These had been previously owned by Anthony Landini who acquired them in 1988 for $165,000 (US). Roberta Jefferies Bauman, the original owner, won them in a competition in 1939. She was a high school girl and belonged to a Photo Play Club that ran a competition to name the 10 best pictures of 1939. Her selection was good enough to win second place in the contest and her prize was the Ruby Slippers. After Anthony Landini bought them they formed part of a display at Disney MGM Theme Park for about ten years. Now the shoes are owned by David Elkouby.

(Video Courtesy: Steve Jarrett Youtube Channel)

A short time later, St Louis art dealer, Philip Samuels purchased a second pair from Christie's East for $160,000 (US). A couple had decided to sell their prize procession which they bought 19 years before for $15,000 (US) probably at the MGM auction. Kent Warner was hired by MGM to prepare costumes and wardrobe for an auction in 1970. when he found the slippers in an old building he presented one pair and kept the rest. This may be why the studio thought there were only two pairs in existence. Warner kept a number of pairs of shoes and sold them privately.

Aficionados believe the shoes owned by Samuels may have been the pair that appeared in the scene where the dead witch of the East's feet lie under the fallen house. Samuel’s slippers have a higher heel than those in the Smithsonian and hence the shoes are known as the “Witches Slippers." Samuels unveiled his pair for the first time in 1988 at a fundraiser benefiting the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The “Witches Slippers” are lent to the Smithsonian when the “Travelling Slippers” are on tour. Controversy continues to surround the number of shoes made for the film. It is likely there were several pairs of shoe available to the actress and these could have been mixed up during takes. This might account for why the markings on the right shoe of the Travelling Slippers reveal 5C 11869 D536 which matches the numbers in the left shoe owned by the Smithsonian Institution. Shaw's left shoe is numbered 5BC 15250 which matches the Smithsonian's right shoe. No attempt has ever been made to reconcile the pair although they have been matched in a recent FBI Investigation. The remaining shoes appear to have no matching numbers and many theorists think this indicates there were more pairs made.

Actress Debbie Reynold's reportedly paid $300.00 for a pair of shoes sold by Kent Warner. These were called the Arabian Test slippers and did not actually appear in the film. Instead, they were used in screen tests and the Arabian Test shoes had no felt on the soles, nor were they ever worn by Judy Garland. The shoes were displayed in Reynold’s Hollywood Hotel/Movie Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada before it was closed. In 2011, the Arabian Test shoes sold for more than $500,000 at auction.

Although unsighted it is thought Bill Thomas owns a pair of size 5 slippers with Judy Garland's name written in the lining. The test pair was called The Bugle Bead Slippers and was allegedly found by Kent Warner. Although bowless these were purportedly worn by Judy Garland during filming in October, 1938.

Hollywood memorabilia collector, Michael Shaw bought a pair at auction for $15,000 (US). Originally he was acting as a middleman for Debbie Reynolds but decided to keep the shoes instead. Legend has it the slippers were discovered, wrapped in a Turkish towel, in a bin in the basement of MGM's Wardrobe Department. The shoes were covered with cobwebs and dust and in some places, sequins were missing. Shaw offered the shoes for display around the US and the slippers was used to raise money and awareness for orphaned children and AIDS research. The shoes were insured for over $1 million (US), and on loan to Children's Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, which houses the Judy Garland museum. Garland was born in Grand Rapids in 1922. The shoes were stolen from the Minnesota museum, in 2005, after a break in. Almost no clues were left behind, neither footprints nor fingerprints, and the surveillance camera was not working that night. Despite a reward of $1m (£775,000) being offered for their safe return and the thief's name no information was forth coming. The reward expired on the tenth anniversary of the robbery.

(Video Courtesy: ImmaculateConceptions Youtube Channel)

Recently the stolen shoes were recovered in a sting operation after a man approached the shoes' insurer and said he could help get them back. Grand Rapids police asked for the FBI's help and after a year-long investigation, the slippers were recovered in July 2018 during a sting operation in Minneapolis. To date no arrests have been made or charges in the case, but they have "multiple suspects" and the FBI continue to investigate. The stolen slippers' authenticity was verified by comparing them with the pair at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History in Washington. Currently the shoes are valued at between $2 million to $7 million.

Over half a century later the red slippers still hold their own fascination.

Littlefield H. 1964 The Wizard of Oz: Parable on Populism , American Quarterly 16 (Spring, 1964), p. 50.
Thomas R 1989 The Ruby Slippers Reference of Oz Los Angeles, CA : Tale Weaver Publishing.
Turn me on Dead man Trippy Films: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

(Video Courtesy: Movieclips Youtube Channel)

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