Ruby slip-ups

March 24, 2011

In the cultural commentary piece on The Wizard of Oz ("Hello, Yellow Brick Road", 17 March), several stated facts call for correction. The writers who actually "tweaked" the 1939 film's screenplay - far from numbering "at least 20", as asserted - can be limited with some certainty to 11, at most. And even that figure would include writers such as Ogden Nash, who was assigned to write a "treatment" for the story in early 1938, but who in the event turned in no written material at all. The film's script is credited, with justification, to Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf.

It is asserted that the film did not recoup its money at the box office "until it was first broadcast on television in 1956". This is not true. The movie was in fact in the black and turning a profit for the studio soon after its very first re-release in cinemas in October 1949.

The writer claims to have "(seen) the ruby slippers from the original film once". They were, he recalls, "in a glass cabinet at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington DC". The article has a great deal to say about the "aura" and the "sheer familiarity with objects seen only in the virtual reality of televisual space".

The photograph purporting to be a representation of "Dorothy's shoes" that accompanies the article is not, in fact, a photo of the "ruby slippers" at all. Rather, it shows what fans of the film will instantly recognise to be the "Arabian Nights" shoes designed by Gilbert Adrian. This peculiar design was tested for camera - and worn by Judy Garland - on one occasion only, in a series of test shots taken on 31 October 1938; they were instantly rejected in favour of a simpler design. They are today owned by the actress Debbie Reynolds and have never set foot in the Smithsonian (so to speak).

There are at least seven known pairs of authentic "ruby slippers" in existence. One of those pairs is indeed on perpetual display in the Smithsonian. They are in poor condition thanks to the wear and tear they received; they would seem to be the pair Garland actually wore for most of the dancing sequences on the Yellow Brick Road in the film. Mismatched manufacturers' numbers on several of the pairs known to be in existence suggest that there are still more pairs of "authentic" ruby slippers yet to be located or brought to light. Then again, when one thinks about that, who would have it otherwise?

Robert L. Mack, Senior lecturer, Department of English, University of Exeter

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