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Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz

Perhaps the most iconic pair of shoes from American history, the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz are instantly recognizable to this day. Although The Wizard of Oz was not the first movie filmed in color, it was perhaps the most popular. Released in 1939, the film drew thousands of people to movie theatres across the country despite ongoing economic struggles during the Great Depression.[1]

The vibrantly saturated colors in the land of Oz were not easily obtained though. Shot on a Technicolor DF-24 Beam Splitter Motion Picture Camera, the filming process was complex and arduous. The technology to film directly in color did not yet exist, so the Technicolor process worked by using a highly specialized camera that would shoot each scene through three different color-filters simultaneously. This resulted in three separate reels of film; one reel with the blue tones, one reel with the red tones, and one reel with the green tones. These three reels were then processed and developed separately by the Technicolor company, and combined into one final full-color film reel. If a production company wanted to shoot a film in Technicolor they would be required to rent the specially made camera directly from the company, and also hire a team of Technicolor consultants to help them operate the complicated machine.[2] In addition to these extra steps, Technicolor also had to be filmed under extremely strong, bright lights. Each sound stage at MGM Studios was outfitted with hundreds of 10,000-watt arc lights so the cameras could actually pick up on the different colors on set.[3] The filming of The Wizard of Oz required so much extra lighting that the electrical company, Southern California Edison, had to build a substation on MGM’s lot in order to generate enough power for the studios.[4]

With the amount of excess complications and expenses required to shoot in Technicolor, MGM was determined to create a show-stopping, jaw-dropping movie by packing in as much color as they could. Although Dorothy’s magic slippers are silver in L. Frank Baum’s book, they were changed to ruby red to take full advantage of the Technicolor. Adrian, the movie’s chief costume designer, decided on the color red because it would stand out the best against the yellow brick road.[5]

Completely constructed by hand, each ruby slipper was covered in 2,300 sequins, 46 rhinestones, 42 bugle beads, and 3 costume jewels. The insides of the shoes were lined with yellow kid leather, and the soles were felted to dampen the sound of Dorothy’s footsteps. Because of the way the Technicolor cameras captured color, the shoes had to be a deep crimson color in order to show up bright red on camera.[6]

Contrary to popular belief more than one pair of ruby slippers were made for the filming of the movie, but the exact number remains unknown. This pair of ruby slippers from the Mercury Collection is a reproduction pair made by Western Costume Company, who made pairs of the original slippers for the movie. This reproduction pair was created in 1989 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz’s release. The slippers were made to the exact same standards as the originals by using the same patterns from 1939. This pair was first purchased by Debbie Reynolds and displayed at her Hollywood Motion Picture Museum at the Debbie Reynold’s Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas between the years of 1994 and 1998. The slippers joined the Mercury Collection in 2014 when Reynold’s collection was auctioned off by the famed Profiles in History auction house in Calabasas, California.[7]

Pictured below is one of the limited replicas made by The Western Costume Company in Hollywood, CA which made the original ruby red slippers for The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland.

A pair of Ruby Slippers worn by Judy Garland for the film, The Wizard of Oz.

Sources:

[1] Lintelman, Ryan. “The Technicolor World of Oz”. O Say Can You See? Stories from the National Museum of American History. Smithsonian. June 7, 2010. http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2010/06/the-technicolor-world-of-oz.html. p. 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Scarfone, Jay. Stillman, William. The Wizardry of Oz: The Artistry and Magic of the 1939 MGM Classic. Hal Leonard Corporation. 2004. p. 8-9.

[4] Scarfone, p. 84-85.

[5] Scarfone, p. 63-64.

[6] Scarfone, p. 85-86.

[7] “Lot 835: The Ruby Slippers.” Invaluable. May 18, 2014. https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/the-ruby-slippers.-62b982cbe6

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