A pair of genuine Wizard of Oz ruby slippers scored by a Tennessee teenager 78 years ago for picking the 10 best movies of 1939 went on sale this week for a whopping $6 million. The iconic slippers, which were worn by Judy Garland during the filming of the beloved musical, have been called “the most famous pair of shoes in the world” and “the Holy Grail of movie memorabilia.” The sale is being handled by auction house Moments in Time.
The slippers had been auctioned twice before. In 1988, the pair appeared at Christie’s East and earned $150,000, plus a $15,000 commission. Then, in 2000, it fetched $600,000, plus a buyer’s premium of $66,000, at the same auction house.
Amazingly, a 16-year-old named Roberta Jefferies Bauman won these fabulously valuable shoes for coming in second in a contest sponsored by the national Four Star Club. The slippers had been used by MGM for publicity purposes and then awarded to Bauman in 1940.
Bauman owned the shoes for 48 years, displaying them only for the benefit of children. She kept her pair of slippers — size 6B — in a box at her home until 1988, when she sold them at auction to a private collector. In 1989, they were put on exhibit at Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. Specifically, they were in the queue to the park’s replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.
MGM’s chief costume designer Gilbert Adrian created multiple pairs of ruby slippers for the film, but only five pairs are known to still exist.
The most-high-profile pair recently took an extended hiatus from its exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., while it undergoes extensive restoration. The conservation care was made possible by the generosity of thousands of backers who contributed nearly $370,000 in an October 2016 Kickstarter campaign. The funds were also earmarked for a state-of-the-art display case designed to protect the slippers from environmental harm.
The Smithsonian’s pair is the one Dorothy wore when she followed the Yellow Brick Road. The felt soles are heavily worn, suggesting these are the shoes primarily worn by the 16-year-old Garland during her dance sequences.
A second pair was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in 2005; a third pair was purchased in 2012 by Leonardo DiCaprio and other benefactors on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ museum, which is scheduled to open next year; a fourth pair is believed to be owned by the heirs of Hollywood costumer Kent Warner; and the fifth pair has been the property of Los Angeles dealer Gary Zimet for the past 18 years. Those shoes carry a price tag of $6 million at Moments in Time. It’s believed that this pair was the second or third worn by Garland in case the main pair was damaged.
Interestingly, Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers are not made of ruby at all. In fact, the bugle beads that prop designers used to simulate ruby proved to be too heavy. The solution was to replace most of the bugle beads with sequins, 2,300 on each slipper. The butterfly-shaped bow on the front of each shoe is rimmed in 46 rhinestones, surrounding 42 bugle beads and three larger rectangular faux jewels, according to Footwear News.
In the 1900 children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy’s slippers were made of silver. According to film lore, screenwriter Noel Langley recommended that they be changed to ruby red so they would stand out better on the yellow brick road when shot in brilliant Technicolor.
Credit: Smithsonian Ruby Slippers image by Chris Evans from same, United States (Ruby Red SlippersUploaded by SunOfErat) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.