Although items and costumes used in timeless movies weren’t particularly valuable to the movie studios or their owners after a film was released, they are worth a fortune at auctions today. One of those valuable items is a well-preserved pair of shoes known as the magical “Ruby Slippers”.
Considered as the Holy Grail of Hollywood memorabilia, the “Ruby Slippers” were worn by Dorothy Gale in the 1939 MGM musical movie “The Wizard of Oz”. By clicking the heels of the shoes together three times, Dorothy was able to travel anywhere, and return home by saying the words – ‘There’s no place like home’.
Although Dorothy was originally set to wear a pair of silver shoes, in accordance with the original novel written by Frank Baum, due to the progress of the new Technicolor film process, the silver shoes were replaced by a dark red pair in order to take full advantage of the modern practice.
Gilbert Adrian, MGM’s chief costume designer, made two differently designed pairs in order to choose which one was more suitable for Dorothy. The first pair, known as the ‘Arabian test pair,’ was rejected as unsuitable for the Kansas farm girl character, while the second pair was approved, with a small modification. Apparently, the red bugle beads that were supposed to simulate rubies were too heavy and so they were replaced with sequins, around 2,300 for each shoe.
Although the ‘Arabian test pair’ with the curled-toe was designated as unsuitable for Dorothy’s character, they eventually sold at the auction of actress Debbie Reynolds for over $510,000.
Allegedly, six pairs of the final design were eventually made for the film’s production. However, no one involved in the making of the movie remembers the exact number of pairs produced. Out of the six pairs that were said to have been made by Joe Napoli of the Western Costume Company, only four survived. The shoes were size of 5 or 6, varying between B and D widths, and made from white silk pumps. Shoes like these were used by many movie studios at the time because they were cheap and easy to dye.
Dorothy’s shoes were first dyed in the dark red color, and the sequined organza overlays were attached to each shoe’s upper and heel after. Two weeks before the shooting, the butterfly-shaped red leather bows embellished with sewn red glass jewels were added to the shoes.
The first lucky individual to discover the legendary shoes in MGM’s basement was the notorious costumer Kent Warner, who owned a large private collection of items and costumes that he later sold at auction.
Warner found several pairs of the classic shoes in 1970 while helping to set up a mammoth auction of the company’s props and costumes. He sold a few of the pairs, saving the best-preserved pair, known as the “Witch’s Shoes,” size 5B, for himself. However, some ten years later, he sold them to an unknown buyer through an auction house for $15,000.
One pair of “Ruby Slippers” were sold at MGM’s auction to an anonymous bidder’s lawyer for $15,000, which are believed to be the ones on display at the Smithsonian Institute today. Apparently, the anonymous bidder was presumed to be the same one that donated the slippers to the institution, again insisting on anonymity.
Another pair was owned by a woman named Roberta Bauman, who got them from a contest at the National Four Star Club “Name the Best Movies of 1939”. Allegedly, the same pair was sold at an auction for over $150,000 to Anthony Landini in 1988. Landini put the “Ruby Slippers” in an auction for $666,000, plus the buyer’s premium, and sold them to a man named David Elkouby, owner of memorabilia shops in Hollywood in 2000.
However, not everyone was willing to pay such high price for the shoes, and a pair of “Ruby Slippers” was stolen at an auction in 2005; the pair was never recovered.
In honor of the 50th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz”, a replica of the “Ruby Slippers” was made by Harry Winston jewelry company.
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The shoes were decorated with about 25 carats of diamonds and 1,500 carats of rubies, worth $3 million, making them the most expensive pair of shoes in the world.