An Education on the World’s Most Magical Movie Item

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If you attend the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, you will find yourself looking at tons of important historical artifacts from our history. But you might find one of these items a bit more magical than the rest.

The ruby slippers below are the slippers worn by Judy Garland from the beloved classic The Wizard of Oz (1939), and they are proudly on display at the museum. Are you talking about THE pair?! Well, at least six or seven pairs of the final design of the slippers are believed to have been made. Why that many? Is that common? Actually, it’s very common, especially if they are the main character. To illustrate this point, what if you were filming a very important scene with a huge actor and his costume ripped? You have to have a spare. And that’s what they did with the slippers.

These size 5 slippers on display at the Smithsonian are actually a mismatched pair. How do we know? This was revealed by the use of different base shoes and markings in the shoe that read “#1 Judy Garland” on the right shoe and “#6 Judy Garland” on the left. Also, to see that they are mismatched as well, the right shoe also has noticeably more wear and evidence of use.

These famous slippers were designed by MGM’s chief costume designer Gilbert Adrian and are made from white pumps from the Innes Shoe Company in Los Angeles. They are covered with red fabric, painted red soles, sequins colored a dark red to match, and bows made of stiff cotton adorned with three kinds of beads and rhinestones. This specific pair has orange felt adhered to the bottom. Why? Because it would muffle Garland’s footsteps as she danced on that yellow brick road.

Photo from Smithsonian Magazine

How did the museum get these shoes? It’s all thanks to an anonymous donor in 1979. And ever since then, these Ruby Slippers were almost always on display. That is until April of 2017. After that, the sippers went on an extensive research and conservation project by a team of over 12 experts from the National Museum of American History, the Museum Conservation Institute, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The extensive work was funded by a very successful Kickstarter in 2016, with over 6,000 loyal fans and backers donating. The slippers have been returned for everyone to see ever since October 19, 2018.

Are these the ONLY pair surviving? Actually, no; remember when we said that the pair is mismatched? Well, it’s true, the shoes do not belong together. But their actual mates (left-sized 5C, right 5BC) were on display at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, until they were stolen in 2005. But they have since been found and are going up for auction.

There is another pair, known as the close-up or insert shoes. They are in the best shape and appear to be better made. Also, this pair has no orange felt on the soles. The shoes have “#7 Judy Garland” written in the lining, and according to the Library of Congress, “it is widely believed that they were used primarily for close-ups and possibly the climactic scene where Dorothy taps her heels together.” To believe this theory further, there are circular scuff marks on the soles. She would have gotten those when she clicked her heels together and repeated the famous line, “There’s no place like home!”

The last known pair possibly have been made for Judy Garland’s stunt double, named Bobbie Koshay. It is most likely the size 6B pair whose lining says “Double” instead of “Judy Garland.” Some have a theory that this pair may have been the second pair created, therefore explaining the “Double” in the lining, but still worn by Garland and Koshay. In fact, several pairs of Garland’s own shoes are size 61⁄2. Also, Garland can be seen wearing this pair in photos taken in 1939, after the film’s primary shooting was finished.

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