Hot Docs 2016: The Slippers
Movies are an incredibly powerful medium. They have the ability to transport you to another world, spark your imagination, and bring us together. One of the greatest films to achieve this in the history of Hollywood has been The Wizard of Oz. It has delighted and entertained billions of people around the world. So it should come as no surprise that a pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers is what created the entire industry of movie memorabilia collecting and are likely considered the quintessential piece to own. Director Morgan White’s documentary The Slippers chronicles the storied history of the shoes and their meteoric rise in value.
The late 1930s was a golden age in Hollywood and at the top of the game was MGM Studios. The biggest of the bunch, they had tremendous success with their roster of actors and with their screwball comedies, adventure films, and musicals. At the time, a book series called The Wizard of Oz had captured the public’s attention, much like Harry Potter has done with this generation. MGM decided to take a chance and buy the rights to the title as a vehicle for young starlet Judy Garland. What resulted was an instant classic film full of creativity that captured the imagination of all who saw it. Thirty years later, when MGM was bought by Kirk Kerkorian, it was decided that the backlots, script depositories, and costume warehouses would be destroyed, as he only saw the value of the land. An auction house was enlisted in 1970 to sell off some of the antique assets but the studio saw no use for any of the props, costumes, or sets. Jack Warner, a costume designer living in Los Angeles was hired to come in and help archive and organize. He immediately saw t he importance of the items and was determined to save iconic pieces of film history including the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. The interest and intrigue in the shoes created what has become the massively lucrative industry of memorabilia collecting.
When the first pair of slippers was sold at auction for $15,000, it was revealed that there was in fact more than one pair. Roberta Bauman revealed that when she was a 16-year-old high school student in Memphis in 1940, she had entered a “Name the Ten Best Movies of 1939” contest, placing second. Following their promotional use, her prize was a pair of ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Kent Warner revealed that he had found multiple pairs but had kept it secret to increase the value at the original auction. As each pair came on the market, they were sold and resold, rapidly increasing their value. The film was iconic to so many people who wanted a piece of their childhood. Along with the shoes, countless other pieces of memorabilia were coming to light as the industry grew. As the shoes changed hands however, it became apparent that people would resort to backstabbing, fighting, and theft fed by jealousy and greed to fulfil their ego of wanting to own the most iconic piece of American movie history. Some did it out of preservation but many did it for the money. The shoes tended to outshine anyone who owned them and became a kind of curse. The known surviving pairs have led storied lives and continue to charm and fascinate people around the world.
The film does a wonderful job of providing historical context surrounding the shoes. It lays out how the Golden Age of Hollywood operated and the making of The Wizard of Oz, and creates a linear narrative of the journeys these pieces have travelled. For anyone interested in classic Hollywood history, it’s a charming trip down memory lane. The complete history, questionable owners and all, and what these shoes represent, has been documented in an enchanting manner.
The Slippers is able to assemble interviews from just about everyone that has been involved over the decades and that provides great value to the story the film is telling. It’s a highly informative piece to anyone who may not have known the history.
With the continued appeal and allure of The Wizard of Oz, generation after generation, there is seemingly no end in sight to the continued rise in value of the shoes. Other pieces of memorabilia are now becoming more coveted as collectors want to own pieces of movie history from their favourite films. But nothing will top the ruby slippers and their iconic status.