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Two Pairs of ‘Wizard of Oz’ Ruby Slippers In The News… AMPAS “Academy Museum of Motion Pictures”, Smithsonian’s “National Museum of American History”

February 23, 2012 by  

Two big stories have been making news in the mainstream media in recent days, with regards to two different pairs of original ruby slippers from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – one purchased for the ‘in the works’ Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences “Academy Museum of Motion Pictures”; the other going off display at the Smithsonian for conservation and an eventual “American Stories” exhibit at their “National Museum of American History”.

As reported by Deadline Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, ABC News, UPI and more, news broke yesterday that Leonardo DiCaprio led an effort of “angel donors” to enable the Academy Foundation to purchase one of a pair of arguably the most iconic movie props in Hollywood history – the famous shoes worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

The ruby slippers were offered at auction late last year by Profiles in History, serving as the cover featured piece in their “Icons of Hollywood Auction” in December.  With a $2M-$3M auction estimate and reserve, these did not sell at auction in the mid-December sale, as noted in my subsequent editorial (see “Editorial: December Entertainment Memorabilia Pop Culture Auction Review and “The Bubble”“).  My reaction in my editorial at the time:

If “test” ruby slippers sold in Debbie Reynolds I for $627,300, why no buyer at $2,000,000 for what have been touted as the hero, screen-worn slippers? Some argue that these are the most iconic props in existence, so $2M does not seem as though it would be an unreasonable value – why no sale?

Per reports, the purchase announced yesterday was brokered by Profiles in History; for the sake of the Academy and intended preservation of the props, hopefully they negotiated the auction house down from the original auction estimate.

Interestingly, this latest development serves as a convergence of three of my Top 11 stories from my year in review article published early last month (see “The Original Prop Blog 2011 Year in Review: News, Developments, and Trends in Collecting Original TV & Movie Props, Costumes and Pop Culture Memorabilia“) – #9 Crowdsource Buying, #5 Hollywood History Museum, and #1 The Debbie Reynolds Auction, December 2011, and “The Bubble”.

This is a very positive sign, showing that the development and creation of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is moving forward, and that there is excitement, enthusiasm, and resources behind the effort.

Obviously, this also positions the Academy as a significant new buyer in the marketplace, which will have a mix of consequences.

I have had some private discussions this week with regards to these developments, and have heard from multiple sources that part of the Academy’s plan is to purchase items exclusively at public auction, as part of the vetting process, and that buying decisions will be made by committee.  If these reports and speculation are accurate, this would be a boon for the few auction houses that operate within this specialty art market.  And, of course, it will have an impact on values and marketing/selling strategies, hopefully not to the detriment to the Academy, but market forces will react.  I would hope that expert staff and consultants are employed to ensure that all purchases have proven provenance and significant authentication efforts are developed, utilized, and relied upon.

As noted in the opening, the other news story involving ruby slippers is the announcement that another, different set of the famous shoes are being removed from the current Smithsonian exhibit as part of a conservation effort.  This other pair were gifted to the Smithsonian by an anonymous donor decades ago, and have been on display nearly continuously since that donation.  As memorialized in a 2007 article, the Washington Post had published a story about the difficulty that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has had in obtaining such rare material (see “The Smithsonian & Competition for Original Props“).

This second pair will reappear in a new “American Stories” exhibit beginning on April 5th at the National Museum of American History.

This other pair were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show in early 2008, as reported on the OPB at the time (see “Original Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz on The Oprah Winfrey Show“).  The OPB was critical of their handling by the show (in stark contrast to how the principal from the Smithsonian handled them), which was shown on video in a follow-up article, but the video was subsequently removed from YouTube by The EIP Group.

All in all, it is great to see that the two rare sets of ruby slipper props are each destined to be well preserved by the Smithsonian and now the Academy.

Below is the full press release from AMPAS on the newly acquired set of ruby slippers:

“Oz” Ruby Slippers Find Their Way Home

Major Acquisition for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

Leonardo DiCaprio spearheads effort with help from Steven Spielberg, Terry Semel

Beverly Hills, CA (February 22, 2012) – The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has acquired a pair of the iconic ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Actor Leonardo DiCaprio led a group of “angel donors” whose gifts to the Academy Foundation enabled the purchase. In addition to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, a component fund of CCF Environmental and Humanitarian Causes, donations came from producer-director Steven Spielberg and Terry Semel, co-chair of LACMA and the former chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. and Yahoo!, along with other donors.

“The ruby slippers occupy an extraordinary place in the hearts of movie audiences the world over,” said Bob Iger, president and CEO of the Walt Disney Co. and chair of the capital campaign for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. “This is a transformative acquisition for our collection.”

“Leo’s passionate leadership has helped us bring home this legendary piece of movie history,” added Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. “It’s a wonderful gift to the Academy museum project, and a perfect representation of the work we do year-round to preserve and share our film heritage.”

These slippers, known as the “Witch’s Shoes,” are in the most pristine condition of the four pairs of ruby slippers known to exist. It is widely believed that these are the slippers Judy Garland wore in close-ups and insert shots, most famously when Dorothy clicks her heels three times to return to Kansas. They are called the “Witch’s Shoes” because they are likely the pair seen on the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East after Dorothy’s house falls on the witch.

After production of the film ended in 1939, the ruby slippers were stored on MGM’s Culver City lot for the next three decades. Several pairs of slippers were discovered in 1970 by costumer Kent Warner while he was preparing for that year’s historic auction of MGM costumes, props and other production-related items. One pair of slippers was sold at the auction and was donated anonymously to the Smithsonian in 1979.

Warner kept the finest pair – the “Witch’s Shoes” – in his private collection for more than a decade before selling them at auction in 1981. They were sold again in 1988 to another private collector, and have been displayed publicly only a handful of times in the years since, most notably at the National Portrait Gallery and the Library of Congress. The 2012 sale to the Academy was handled by auction house Profiles in History.

Last October, the Academy and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced plans to establish the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures inside the historic May Company building, currently known as LACMA West. The building has been a Los Angeles landmark since its opening in 1939, the same year “The Wizard of Oz” premiered.

Jason DeBord

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