The Ruby Slippers of Oz: Thirty Years Later

“Keep tight inside of them. Their magic must be very powerful, or she wouldn't want them so badly," said Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, talking about the ruby slippers.

In L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the magic shoes worn by the Wicked Witch of the East – and transferred to Dorothy after the Witch of the East’s untimely demise – were silver. In 1938, when MGM began pre-production of the motion picture based on Baum’s novel, it was decided that silver simply would not do for the lavish Technicolor film. With the slash of a pen, the word “silver” was marked out of the script while it was in developlment, and replaced with the handwritten word ruby. With that simple substitution, Dorothy Gale’s silver shoes became her Ruby Slippers, and a Hollywood icon was created. In the 1989 book, The Ruby Slippers of Oz, journalist and documentary filmmaker Rhys Thomas told the fascinating, and mostly unknown, story of the Ruby Slippers after their time on the silver screen.  Now Thomas is back with a revised edition that continues this fascinating tale that has spanned over eight decades.

In both the original and revised editions, Thomas describes how the decline of Hollywood’s studio system of filmmaking gave rise to the now competitive and lucrative market for props and costumes used in motion pictures. He chronicles the now infamous auction held by MGM in 1970; how and why it was held; and the efforts of one of the costumers, hired to assist with the auction, and his attempts to save what he saw as Hollywood’s history. That costumer, Kent Warner, discovered the ruby slippers while preparing for the sale. He turned over one pair of the shoes to the auctioneers. Prior to the event, they were described as the only pair in existence, and at the time the gavel price was a staggering $15,000. A few days later, a woman in Tennessee came forward and stated that she had a pair of ruby slippers. As a teenager in 1939 she had won them in a contest, and had owned them for the last thirty-one years. How many pairs of the ruby slippers were there? How many pairs did Kent Warner actually find on the MGM lot, and where did the ones not turned over for the auction go? Thomas, like a detective from a classic film noir, pieced together the disparate and tenuous clues to tell the tale of the fabled shoes from Oz. In the revised edition, Thomas returned to the story and revised his original book to update the history of Hollywood’s most famous footwear, and document the last thirty years, including the theft from the Judy Garland Museum in 2005 and their subsequent recovery in 2018.

The Ruby Slippers of Oz: Thirty Years Later is a fascinating, and at times labyrinthine tale that will enthrall fans of The Wizard of Oz, enthusiasts of Hollywood history, or anyone that likes a gripping tale of intrigue and fabulous shoes. Author Rhys Thomas will be speaking at the West Valley Regional Branch Library about information here.