The Ruby Slippers: The Search for Sole Survivors
Last week, Calendar ran the first installment of Rhys Thomas’ account of his search for the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz.” It began when he was in the old MGM script vaults to shoot a TV segment for “Hollywood Closeup” on the dismantling of the MGM script library by Ted Turner. Thomas became fascinated with the magical shoes and where they might be.
Roberta Bauman of Memphis once thought she had the only pair--won in a movie fans’ contest nearly half a century ago. Then another pair surfaced in a 1970 auction of MGM artifacts, in which a pair of the ruby shoes sold to a mysterious buyer for $15,000.
Thomas wanted to know more. His obsessive search led him into the underworld of the Hollywood memorabilia black market and the legend of a film costumer, the late Kent Warner. Warner, who salvaged costumes from famous movies from many studios, may have taken several pairs of slippers while assisting with the MGM auction. In 1981, he auctioned his best pair for $12,000--shoes that could be worth six figures today.
But how many pairs are there--and who has them? In his sleuthing, Thomas became more and more entangled in the mystery and its sometimes strange players.
“All you have to do is to knock the heels together three times and command the shoes to carry you wherever you wish to go.”
--Glinda, the Good Witch of the North
Ever since that exciting day in May, 1970, when the story hit news wires that Roberta Bauman had owned a pair of ruby slippers long before the MGM auction, her life hasn’t been the same. She has received hundreds of inquiries about the fabled shoes and become part of a circle of ruby slipper aficionados.
But a phone call in December, 1981, at her native Memphis home from a man named Ted Smith would stand out from other inquiries. Smith identified himself as “a free-lance writer” and said he wanted to report on the shoes.
She followed the call by writing Smith a letter, telling him “all about my pair of Judy Garland ruby slippers,” as she always did with other inquiries she’d gotten over the years. Smith called back. “Ted asked if I wanted to sell my pair of the ruby slippers,” Bauman recorded in her notes of the conversation. “Yes,” she told him, “I have been considering it if I am offered a reasonable price.” But she added, “I cannot put a price on this history-making treasure.” (Bauman recently decided to auction her ruby slippers at Christie’s East in New York on June 21.)
She did not hear from Smith for a couple of months. Then, he wrote to Bauman in March, 1982, saying he was “picking up where I left off on my ruby slippers article.” He asked Bauman for photos of and detailed information about her slippers, including their construction, materials, colors, identifying marks and so on. She complied.
A month later, an article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle about a man who claimed to own a pair of the ruby slippers, Size 6. “A Sign of Hard Times,” said the headline, “Oz Ruby Slippers Must Go.” Through her network of ruby slipper friends, Bauman received a copy of the article, written by reporter Randy Shilts, who has since gained recognition for his current best seller, “And the Band Played On,” a widely praised history of the AIDS epidemic.
The story was about the same Ted Smith who had been corresponding with Bauman, and how badly he felt because he had to sell the ruby slippers.
“I’ll have to cry all the way to the bank,” he quipped. He said “he bought his pair from a former MGM costume department employee some eight years ago,” but Shilts wisely added that “verification of Smith’s booty . . . is a sticky issue.” Smith said “the authentication is seeing them. Just to think that Judy Garland touched these is amazing.”
Roberta Bauman was surprised when she read the article about Smith. “Some gag,” she recorded in her own notes. “I wonder if the S.F. newspapers found out (if) it was a stunt?”
Two years later, Smith was interviewed by Stephanie Salter of the San Francisco Examiner for an article published in August, 1984. This time the subject was Smith’s unique novelty shop; again, he talked about the red shoes. Apparently, he had not sold them as he had hoped.
According to an advertisement, Smith called his Pine Street boutique “The Greatest Little Shop This Side of Munchkinland!” Complete with a “Happy Hall of Hilarity,” Smith’s emporium primarily celebrated “The Wizard of Oz.” On display were wax figures of the fabled Yellow Brick Four--the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman, Cowardly Lion and Dorothy--plus costumes allegedly worn in the movie. And a pair of the ruby slippers. Everything was for sale.
Then . . . on Oct. 16, 1984, Smith called San Francisco police to report that he had been robbed of his ruby shoes.
“Of all the things for them to take,” Smith was quoted by the Associated Press. The wire story reported that “two men forced him at gunpoint to take the red sequined shoes from a locked cabinet and put them in a cardboard box.” He placed the value of his loss at $20,000.
During two odd phone conversations late last year, Smith told me that he owned the slippers and also that they had been stolen. Moments later, he said that he had never owned them.
“I have their essence,” Smith said mysteriously. “I wore them very well, but they weren’t rightfully my shoes.”
When pressed for details about his pair of shoes, particularly where and how he obtained them, Smith replied: “I’m not a very factual person.”
Smith said his store was insured, but that he never filed a claim for compensation for the slippers. One month later, he closed the shop down.
“It was our belief he concocted the whole story,” said San Francisco Police Department Inspector Frank Harrington when asked about the case. “We were never able to verify that he actually owned a real pair. The case is closed as far as we’re concerned.”
(Smith was not available to comment on the S.F.P.D.'s belief. He moved, leaving no forwarding address or phone number, prior to my conversation with Harrington.)
The case of Ted Smith seemed one more diversion along the twisted trail of the ruby slippers. But Smith inadvertently led to Don Ritchie.
Today, Ritchie operates an antique store in San Francisco at 1467 Pine St.--the former location of Smith’s boutique. Ritchie doesn’t claim to be an expert on the ruby slippers, but did mention he had an old friend who was. The name? Kent Warner, the Hollywood costumer who found the ruby slippers prior to the MGM auction in 1970, possibly taking several pair. Ritchie became my vital link to Warner’s past. He was the first of Warner’s friends to speak with me.
Ritchie couldn’t get the image of Warner’s favorite pair of slippers out of his mind. “They were in great shape,” he said. “Kent had a spotlight on them in the corner of his living room.” For details, Ritchie referred me to another San Franciscan, Ken Maley, another of Warner’s old friends.
Maley said he met Kent Warner just after the MGM auction. “What an amazing person,” Maley remembered. “He had a very funny voice, a high voice, curly hair, nice body, a real wheeler-dealer.
“Kent had an enormously wide social repertoire. He had events at the house. We showed films (from a personal library) that he had props and costumes from.”
One night, Warner showed one of his favorites, “Follow the Fleet,” starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. While his friends watched, Warner paraded out in one of Rogers’dresses from the movie. It was just one of the many items in Warner’s vast collection that Maley called “the first stop” between the studios and the streets.
Warner’s home, in the fashionable De Mille apartment building in the Hollywood foothills, was crammed with memorabilia that he had acquired from the studios, Maley said. This included Fred Astaire’s shoes, slippers and ties, Ginger Rogers’ dresses and many other pieces, all identified and stored in a large armoire. “He was way ahead of his time in appreciating the value of costumes. He knew he could take them to people and have them appreciated as collectibles. That’s how he supplemented his income. He made thousands of dollars, quite a side living. Things went to Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Kent was a source for a lot of costumes.”
Including, of course, the ruby slippers. “Kent’s shoes were the best pair. They were the showcase of his collection. He had the shoes on a pedestal, four feet off the ground with a plexiglass cover. They were set on an angle and there was a spotlight so the sequins sparkled.
“When the (MGM) auction was planned, Kent was sent looking for the ruby slippers. Nobody even knew if they were there. Over the years, things had disappeared. He found seven to nine pairs. He gave a respectable pair to the auction.
“He told me he was told to destroy all but one pair, the best pair, and he did destroy a pair or two. But he had to have a corroborator, someone to say he’d destroyed a pair. Someone had to be paid off with a pair. Someone working at the studio at the time. Kent was blackmailed for a pair.”
Or so Warner told friends. Later, the name of a man who once worked with Warner surfaced in connection with this story. But nearly a hundred phone calls to the man were never answered.
Another name that Maley mentioned in connection with Warners’ slippers: actress-singer Debbie Reynolds.
A Hung Jury
Debbie Reynolds has long been known as dedicated to preserving Hollywood history, particularly its memorabilia. For years, she lobbied the studios and the press to establish a Hollywood museum.
“She has devoted so much time and energy and money,” said Margie Duncan, Reynolds’ personal assistant and longtime friend. “It’s something she cares a lot about.”
At one point, Reynolds met with then Burbank Studios president Robert Hagel, hoping the facility would donate star clothing. Apparently persuaded, Hagel allowed a man named John Raymond LeBold to make an inventory of the studio’s star wardrobe. About that time, items allegedly began to disappear.
On Jan. 2, 1980, Sgt. Robert Kight of the Burbank Police Department served a search warrant on LeBold at 6514 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood--Debbie Reynolds’ Professional Rehearsal Studio. Police confiscated 667 costumes and props allegedly stolen from the Burbank Studios between November, 1978, and January, 1980.
“Debbie Reynolds doesn’t have anything to do with it,” Kight said recently. “She wasn’t involved.”
According to the transcript from LeBold’s preliminary hearing in Pasadena Superior Court, Kight questioned LeBold at Reynolds’ studio on Dec. 27, 1979, a few days before the search. Kight overheard “a conversation (with LeBold) . . . that this was Debbie Reynolds’ studio, and they were putting together a memorabilia of costumes, and he related some of the costumes were his and some of the costumes belonged to Debbie Reynolds which was evident by inspection of the costumes in the storage room.”
LeBold’s defense counselor objected “to all of that testimony . . . about costumes belonging to him and Miss Reynolds” but the court overruled. Other court witnesses already established that Reynolds knew John LeBold and together they were engaged in a museum venture.
Jack Delaney, the former manager of the Wardrobe Department at Warner Bros. and the first to notice the missing clothes, testified that LeBold had been allowed on the Burbank Studios lot with free access to the wardrobe department’s storage areas. “He spent several months selecting wardrobe, tagging it, identifying it, looking at the labels and putting it on a rack.” He was researching clothes for Reynolds’ museum, according to the court transcript.
Kight said later: “The primary problem with the case was that the record keeping at the Burbank Studios came down to one dedicated man (Jack Delaney) who knew where everything was but had no inventory. Due to the lack of documentation, we were unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that LeBold had committed a crime.”
On March 25, 1981, the 49-day-old trial ended in deadlock, its jury hung in favor of conviction, according to jurors. “The guy didn’t deserve to go to state prison,” said Kight. “He wouldn’t have survived it. He just had a fetish about clothes.”
The next day, the judge declared a mistrial and on July 16, the case was dismissed at the request of the Burbank Studios. Of the 667 items confiscated, only 26 were returned to LeBold, including Sally Field’s “Flying Nun” hat; the remaining items were returned to the Burbank Studios.
When contacted, LeBold told Calendar he “was like a scapegoat,” referring to the studios’ efforts to tighten security on star wardrobe collections. His defense was that the studios often traded costumes back and forth, counting hangers but not ownership labels. Because of this, he said, many costumes he bought at the MGM auction originally came from Warner Bros. “It cost me thousands and thousands of dollars and I was proved innocent.”
Reynolds also talked recently about the court case and John LeBold. “I think he was a very lucky boy to get off,” the actress said. “I was allowed to go into Warners and catalogue and they were going to donate to the museum. All we were in there for was to be like students and assist . . . them with their inventory.”
LeBold, Reynolds said, had worked for her since the MGM auction. “He walked up to me and said, ‘We have the same dream.’ I took him on at that time to help me to preserve my costumes. Somehow along the way he lost his dream of a Hollywood museum and it became a business. I have never lost my dream. I firmly believe we will have our museum.”
Reynolds acknowledged the avaricious side of the memorabilia collecting business: “Someone stole 20 boxes of my memorabilia. Someone made a very good haul.” She says she did not file a report with the police. “I didn’t want to get anybody in trouble.
“It’s very sad,” she said philosophically. “As long as people want to collect, they become passionate, and any excuse is good enough. Stealing, hiding, borrowing, permanently borrowing.”
On the issue of disappearing costumes, Ed Medman, Burbank Studios’ vice president of legal and business affairs, said that “we had a problem, which has been resolved.”
(But not before 1984, when the Burbank Studios prevented a Los Angeles collector from auctioning certain Warner Bros. costumes at Sotheby’s in New York. While the auction was not blocked, the Burbank Studios held an option to collect purchase money from the consignor for the specific items. The matter was settled without litigation.)
By then, it became apparent to many collectors that the studios were putting an end to a decade of rummaging. More than 10 years too late, some Hollywood bosses recognized the value of what they had been regarding as clutter and trash.
Kent Warner’s name didn’t come up at the LeBold trial, but Sgt. Kight was familiar with it and believed LeBold and Warner were acquainted: “It’s a circle that I’m uncomfortable with,” Kight said. “It’s just goofy. It’s all part of that show-biz stuff. I can only compare it to guys who want Rembrandts or Van Goghs.”
Were There 7 Pairs?
What is Reynolds’ connection to Warner and the slippers? Said Reynolds: “I have a pair of slippers that Kent Warner gave me. They’re red ruby slippers with the rolled-up toe. They were a test pair.” When asked, Reynolds said she bought this test pair--the Arabian test shoes--from Warner. She also said she had one of Garland’s gingham dresses from “The Wizard of Oz,” obtained at the MGM auction.
A former roommate of Warner with whom Warner lived in the early 1970s--introduced through Maley--asked for anonymity but was willing to talk about Warner and the slippers. He was pleased that someone was writing about his late friend and claimed to know “all Kent’s secrets.”
“He was a very intense human being,” the ex-roommate said. “He was for the preservation (of Hollywood memorabilia). Kent had a friend who worked closely with Debbie Reynolds.” (The friend was John LeBold.) “The things Kent got for John to give to Debbie--they believed in Debbie’s effort. Kent was pleased with what she was trying to do.”
LeBold--who once was reported as owning the world’s largest private collection of rare movie memorabilia and opened his own Hollywood museum in 1984, only to watch it fold the following year--also claims to have once owned a pair. LeBold said that he bought his pair from Warner for $300, but that they were stolen several years ago; he declined to name the person he suspects of the theft and did not report it to police. Like others, he didn’t know exactly how many pairs Warner found but speculated that five exist.
The ex-roommate believed Warner found seven pairs of ruby slippers, but was uncertain how many, if any, had been destroyed. “He kept the nicest for himself. They were perfect. There was no damage to the sequins. They had slick, soft-leather soles. No orange felt. We always thought they were the Witch’s shoes.
“Kent loved to tell stories (about how he acquired the shoes). The facts seem kind of elusive, especially with friends. The story became dogma. He said he found them in a very dim, dark place, in a big bin, down at one end, kind of tucked away, up high, wrapped in brown paper.
“He kept the best pair, the ones with no wear. One pair went to the auction. One pair went for a quiet payoff, and one pair went to someone else named Michael.”
Then the former roommate told about a ruby slipper feud: “Kent said he gave the ruby slippers to Michael because (he believed) Michael . . . was going to give them to Debbie. Michael was not one of Kent’s favorite people. They did not remain friends.”
Warner’s ex-roommate did not know Michael’s last name. But Tod Machin, a ruby slipper expert who lives in Kansas City, was certain he knew. “Michael Shaw,” he said. “He’s the person with the shopping mall shoes.”
With a Gingham Dress
“If you ever talk to Debbie Reynolds you can tell her I will burn the ruby slippers before I give them to her . “
Michael Shaw has assembled one of the more remarkable collections of Hollywood memorabilia in the country. Periodically, he exhibits his collection as a traveling show called “Hollywood on Tour.” It was in this exhibit that Tod Machin said he first saw the ruby slippers when it visited Wichita in 1982.
Shaw, after some coaxing, invited me to his San Fernando Valley apartment, located in an innocuous complex with the requisite swimming pool. Inside, the dimly lit, tomblike apartment was crowded with ancient Chinese statuettes of ivory and jade, jeweled knives and swords, suits of armor, Coca-Cola serving trays from the ‘50s and other nostalgia items.
The walls were covered with gilt-framed paintings, photos and familiar movie posters. He had original one-sheets from Mary Pickford’s “M’Liss” and “Gone With the Wind,” and an impressive, floor to ceiling three-sheet of Cecil B. DeMille’s “Male and Female.” Most of the furniture was antique, including the famous grandfather clock from the movie “Laura.”
Shaw, a slim, fit, fastidious man who appears to be in his 40s, said he had been a child actor on contract with MGM. Now a tour guide at Universal Studios, he said of his memorabilia collection, “The shoes are the premiere piece.
“Kent Warner,” he said, “enabled me to acquire the nucleus of my collection. From what he helped me acquire, I was able to build a wonderful collection.” Besides the one magnificent pair of ruby slippers, Shaw also has Errol Flynn’s sword from “Sea Hawk,” one of Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch hats (apparently there were several) and her shoes from “Oz,” Humphrey Bogart’s trench coat from “Casablanca” and the mysterious black bird better known as the Maltese Falcon.
“Kent was an unusual guy, easy to love, easy to hate. He was mad about Art Deco. He never stole from individuals but acquired an awful lot of things from the studios.” Shaw said he was with Warner when he found Bogart’s trench coat at Warner Bros., “ready to be burned.”
Shaw vividly recalled Warner’s involvement in the MGM auction: “He told me, ‘Michael, the main reason I went to work for Weisz was to find the ruby slippers.’ He found what he was looking for. He was ecstatic.” Warner, Shaw added, “turned the place inside out looking for the Witch’s broom” but never found it.
Shaw said that Warner “would come to the studio in the morning with a duffel bag all rolled up and leave with it stuffed. He told them it was filled with things to take to the cleaners. He took them to the cleaners all right.”
But how did Shaw get his choice pair of ruby slippers?
“I got them from Kent as part of a deal. I got to know him before the auction. He had told me he found several pairs. I said, ‘Kent, I would give anything to have a pair.’ He said, ‘You know, the impossible could happen.’
“He said he knew someone that he had given a pair to, but they weren’t into Hollywood memorabilia.” The person was one of Warner’s co-workers, Shaw remembered, and that Warner said “he had a pair he might be willing to part with as part of a package deal, including a gingham dress.
“I don’t think there was ever another person,” Shaw added. “I think he did it to make me feel he had to negotiate. I think he was trying to mask the fact that he had all the shoes.
“I made the deal with Kent before the auction. We settled on a price, he came up with a price, which by today’s standards was not much, and a friend of mine loaned me the money. Kent insisted the purchase be made in cash.”
(Shaw wouldn’t specify the price, but Reynolds said he told her it was about $2,500.)
Shaw continued: “The day I got mine, when Kent brought them over, I was so thrilled I literally started crying. Kent hugged me, I was just thrilled to pieces. I told him that if I never owned another possession, I’d be happy.”
For the interview, Shaw retrieved his shoes from a safe-deposit box. They are in excellent condition--much better shape than the Smithsonian’s--and are clearly marked Size 5 1/2. Like the Smithsonian and Bauman pairs, they have orange felt covering the red-painted soles, but they also have Judy Garland’s name written into the lining, similar to those sold at Christie’s. Shaw said they were a “close-up” pair, which accounts for their little-used condition.
“Debbie and I go back many years,” Shaw said. “She wanted her museum. If she had followed the advice of qualified people, her project would have gotten off the ground. I worked with her for 3 1/2 years and then we had a big blowup.”
Were the shoes Shaw got from Warner intended for Debbie Reynolds and her museum? Shaw was incensed.
“That’s absolutely false!” Shaw declared. He wanted to put an old rumor to rest. “It’s an incredible lie. I would submit to a polygraph test, that’s how angry I am.
“I bought them; I had to borrow money; I had to give Kent the money in cash. Tell me, if the pair of shoes that I’ve got were supposed to go to Debbie, why didn’t he give them to her? Debbie would have made Kent a firm money offer for something as precious as the ruby slippers. The minimum he would have gotten from her was double what he got from me. Kent knew my financial condition.”
(Reynolds said she could not afford the shoes at the time: “I was out of money, because I had just spent $180,000 at the (MGM) auction.”)
Shaw’s anger ebbed, and he more calmly offered his side of things. “At the time, I was still working with Debbie. She got to know Kent as a result of his friendship with me.” Shaw recalled telling Reynolds that Warner planned on selling a pair of the ruby slippers to him: “Debbie was excited. I said, ‘You know, Debbie, everything I get will probably go into the museum.’ ”
Reynolds agreed: “When he (Shaw) bought them, he said, ‘You know they’re yours, Debbie. They’re for the museum.” But then she added, “I know that Kent sold them to Mike with the full belief that the museum would get them.”
Shaw stopped working with Reynolds on the proposed museum but remained a collector in his own right, amassing what retired Smithsonian Institution curator Carl Scheele told me seems like “a remarkable collection.” The Smithsonian, said Scheele, would love to have Shaw’s Maltese Falcon.
Shaw has taken his treasures around the country, exhibiting them at shopping malls and recently at the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City. He said he gets a fee for most exhibitions. During the past eight years, Shaw estimates that 1 million people have seen his ruby slippers in 25 different cities. Because of their wide exposure, Shaw’s slippers are often mistaken for many different pairs.
His account of Warner’s discovery of the shoes differed little from others already related, but he did specifically say Warner found them on the third floor of the Ladies Character Wardrobe Building at MGM, not in a basement or attic of a sound stage. He would not talk about how many pairs were found. “I don’t want to tell you that. I don’t want my pair to lose their impact.”
He’s sure Warner did not destroy any. “Absolutely not. He had no reason to. When Kent first showed the Weisz people the (pair of) slippers, they didn’t even know what they were. He was not told to destroy any pair and he didn’t destroy any pair.”
Then, pressed with more questions, he grew testy again. “I don’t understand why you are so obsessed with these idiotic details. Why destroy the mystique of the shoes? You will only disillusion and sadden people. It’s like saying, ‘Here’s the Easter Bunny, I’m going to cut his ears off.’ ”
Years after the auction, Reynolds was still determined to own a pair of the shoes. “I always called him (Kent Warner) and asked him when the slippers would be sold and if he would sell them to me. He said yes. I tried to reach Kent. I heard he was ill and I tried to get through to him. But I didn’t. You know, I’m not going to be pushy and go over to somebody’s house on his deathbed.
“I wish I had a pair,” she said. “I would be interested in purchasing a pair or trying to save a pair for the museum. I’m not interested for me, Debbie Reynolds. I’m interested for the museum. I would think whoever owns a pair, like Mike Shaw, would want to loan them to a museum.”
She implied that she wouldn’t be able to bid for Roberta Bauman’s slippers when they’re auctioned by Christie’s East on June 21--but also asked for an auction catalogue.
Judy’s Scuff Marks
The paths of the ruby slippers came to seem eerily entwined. One afternoon, a man called me at home and identified himself as “the representative of a wealthy Texan” who wanted to buy a pair of ruby slippers. Costumers at Lorimar Studios--formerly MGM--had given him my phone number. “Money is not a problem,” the man said. “Can you help us find a pair of the shoes?”
I knew Roberta Bauman’s ruby slippers, won so many years ago in the Hollywood contest, were free of the intrigue and tampering of Kent Warner; she was interested in selling her shoes. I told Bauman about the Texan, but she was wary of unsolicited calls and preferred to let the matter drop.
Months later, quite by chance while browsing at an antique store, I happened across a woman who sold vintage clothing.
“I used to deal in a lot of clothes from the studios,” she said. She had not known Kent Warner, but put me in touch with Bill Thomas, an avid collector who lives in the San Fernando Valley.
When contacted, Thomas said surprisingly, “I have a pair of the ruby slippers.” He said he had gotten them eight years ago from a woman friend. “Mine were given to me as a gift for my 21st birthday.”
He knew Kent Warner and John LeBold from the 1970s, and was familiar with the mysterious lore of the slippers. He said there were seven pairs. “Kent found six pairs,” Thomas said, “and the woman (Roberta Bauman) had another pair.”
Bill Thomas told me Warner kept “the pair that Judy used to click her heels three times.” They had slick-leather soles and had not been worn and were in perfect condition, Thomas said, except for circular scuff marks on the soles, where Garland supposedly rotated her feet. This closely matched the description of the shoes sold in 1981 at Christie’s East.
It helped unravel the secret of the best pair: The Witch’s shoes, the prop pair Warner and his roommate believed were first seen in the movie on the Witch of the East, were more likely used by Garland in that very last scene in the Emerald City when she taps her heels.
Thomas, who says his collection of movie memorabilia has “thousands of items,” didn’t want to reveal any particulars about his own pair of sequined shoes. “They’re in a safety-deposit box,” he said. “I haven’t seen them for years. I won’t look at them until I deserve to see them.”
‘Think Like Kent’
The odd conversation with Thomas seemed to epitomize the absurdity and compulsive quality of my own search for the ruby slippers. It had to end.
If Thomas truly owns a pair, then altogether five turned up. There may be more, but this is what I found:
The Auction/Smithsonian slippers, Size 5C, found prior to the MGM auction by Kent Warner. Originally thought to be the only pair in existence. One theory: the anonymous person who bought them for $15,000 sought to recoup losses by gaining a tax deduction for donating them to the Smithsonian. These shoes are in rough condition; have the orange felt; embossed “Innes” stamp is visible in right shoe but color worn off; no name in lining; missing sequins; probably the first pair made by Joe Napoli and worn by Garland during many of the dance scenes.
The Bauman slippers, Size 6B, made public two days after the auction. Awarded as a prize to Roberta Bauman in February, 1940. No name in lining. Have orange felt on red-painted soles. Stitched “Innes” label in right shoe, white with red and black lettering. Probably the second pair made by Joe Napoli. Wear indicates use by Garland in dancing scenes. The only pair not involved in Kent Warner’s intrigue. They won’t come cheap when auctioned on by Christie’s East on June 21.
The Shaw slippers, Size 5 1/2. Found by Kent Warner prior to the MGM auction; sold to Michael Shaw in 1970. Very dark burgundy color, in excellent condition. Shaw believes they are a “close-up” pair. Have orange felt on red-painted soles. Embossed “Innes” label in silver. Have the name “Judy Garland” written into lining. Probably among last pairs to be made by Joe Napoli. Seen so widely in exhibits, many people think they are different pairs.
The Witch’s slippers, Size 5B. These were the centerpiece of Kent Warner’s memorabilia collection. Found by Warner prior to the MGM auction, they were sold in 1981 by Christie’s East for $12,000. A close-up or prop pair in near-perfect condition. Red painted, slick-leather soles. Have “7 Judy Garland” written in lining. Embossed “Innes” label in gold. Probably the last and best pair made by Joe Napoli. Owned by an “anonymous California millionaire.” Presumed to be the pair that Judy Garland wore when she tapped her heels together three times, but this cannot be proved. For believers in “Oz” intrigue, these shoes may have the real power.
The Thomas slippers, Size 5 (existence unconfirmed by Calendar). Found by Kent Warner prior to MGM auction. Probably sold to unknown collector shortly thereafter. Details unknown. May have been part of larger memorabilia collection before “given” to Bill Thomas as a birthday present in 1980.
In addition, there is Debbie Reynolds’ Arabian test pair. No doubt they hold their own value among ruby slipper fanatics.
Various theories explain the existence of five to seven identical pairs of ruby slippers, but the conflicting evidence is confusing. If Warner found seven pairs, but destroyed three--as several sources claimed--then all the shoes are accounted for. But if he didn’t destroy any, then three are unaccounted for.
As one of his friends said, “You have to think like Kent.” He allowed people to believe what they assumed. Auctioneer David Weisz apparently assumed Warner found one pair. Friends assumed Warner found seven pairs, possibly because his own pair were marked “7 Judy Garland.”
It’s hard to imagine Kent Warner destroying any ruby slippers, any more than burning a thousand-dollar bill. He was too shrewd about parlaying found goods into money.
I believe seven basically identical pairs of ruby slippers were made and may still exist--the five accounted for here and two not found. The truth may well have died with Kent Warner, but we mustn’t forget that he had an appreciation for costumes not shared by the studios. Without Warner’s escapades, there’s no telling how much movie memorabilia would have been lost.
The larger question is not how many pairs of ruby slippers exist, but why they so fascinate us. Some say they are magical, or that they are cursed. Collectors say they are valuable pieces of Hollywood memorabilia, while others prefer to think of them as nothing more than “Dorothy’s shoes,” simple and sweet, the stuff of dreams. Countless more surely have no interest in them whatsoever.
But for some, they remain an enduring fairy tale symbol of the power of belief.
Back in Washington, the Smithsonian’s ruby slippers have a new companion. Thanks to the Turner Entertainment Co., when visitors trek to that northwest corner of the National Museum of American History, they will see in the “Oz” display case not just the famous sequined shoes.
Now, Noel Langley’s 1938 script, opened to a page with a reference to the “silver shoes,” is there beside Dorothy’s slippers.
There’s some marvelous history there, and now it’s a little more complete. At least it is for me.