In L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” as well as the subsequent cartoon, stage musical and silent movies, Dorothy’s slippers are silver.
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Wanting to replicate Disney’s Technicolor success with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Louis B. Mayer bought the film rights to Baum’s book and hired Judy Garland to star. With the new visual technology, silver footwear appeared pallid and dull.
MGM Studios costume designer Gilbert Adrian found that red silk fabric slippers looked orange under the bright lights, so he had 2,300 dark burgundy, almost brown, sequins sewn in rows onto the shoes. To make Dorothy look more innocent, at George Cukor’s request he also added butterflies.
In 1938, it cost about $15 to make the ruby slippers. In 2011, one pair of the four known to exist from the film, sold for $2 million at auction.
The Smithsonian has a pair of authenticated ruby slippers on display -- it’s one of the most popular exhibitions at the museum.
I spoke with Richard Kurin, author of “The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects,” on the following topics:
1. From 137 Million to 101
2. Franklin’s Staff
3. Lincoln’s Silk Hat
4. Woolworth Lunch Counter
5. Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)
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