'Wizard of Oz' ruby red slippers to be auctioned in December

Slippers are one of four pairs from famous film, were once stolen from Minnesota museum

Cover Image for 'Wizard of Oz' ruby red slippers to be auctioned in December
The Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, hopes to buy the slippers and "bring them home." (Credit: Heritage Auctions)

Unlike today, when movie studios and prop masters diligently catalog and inventory all production material from each film, when “The Wizard of Oz” was produced in 1939, no such care was taken.

As a result, a pair of the famous ruby red slippers, worn by Dorothy in the film, languished in a studio warehouse at MGM for decades.

It wasn’t until the slippers were tracked down by Michael Shaw, who bought them from a costume designer in 1970 for $2,000, that the shoes were treated as an iconic relic of Hollywood history.

Michael Shaw, right, posing with Heritage Auctions' Brian Chanes, originally bought the slippers for $2,000 in 1970. (Credit: Heritage Auctions)
Michael Shaw, right, posing with Heritage Auctions' Brian Chanes, originally bought the slippers for $2,000 in 1970. (Credit: Heritage Auctions)

Shaw began lending them to various institutions so fans could have the opportunity to see them exhibited. In 2005, while on display at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota — located in Garland’s childhood home — a man named Terry Martin broke into the museum and left with the slippers, disappearing into the night.

At the time, the slippers were insured for $1 million.

The slippers went unfound for more than a decade, despite a million-dollar reward offered by an anonymous person as well as 1 million Marriott points offered by Marriott International in return for information leading to the recovery of the slippers. Shaw was able to receive around $800,000 in a payout from his insurance company.

Plenty of tips came in regarding the case, though all proved fruitless.

“The Grand Rapids Police Department's goal was always to find the slippers, not solve the case,” Janie Heitz, executive director of the Judy Garland Museum, told cllct. “Once they got the lead, the right lead, they looped the FBI into it to help with the sting operation.”

Finally, the FBI and Grand Rapids Police Department recovered them in July 2018 in a sting operation. Martin would later be indicted by a federal grand jury for the “theft of an object of cultural heritage from the care, custody, or control of a museum” and charged with one count of “theft of major artwork.” He pleaded guilty to theft last October.

The FBI claimed the fair market of the slippers had reached $3.5 million by the time of its recovery and subsequent return to the possession of Shaw, who “likened the experience to a heartfelt reunion with a long-lost friend,” per an FBI press release.

Shaw quickly consigned the slippers to Heritage Auctions, which plans to sell the shoes in December after an international press tour, including visits to Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo.

In 2012, Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg paid $2 million for another pair of the slippers for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences museum.

There are believed to be at least four pairs of slippers from the original production, with one owned by a private collector, one at AMPAS and the other at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

“You cannot overstate the importance of Dorothy’s ruby slippers: They are the most important prop in Hollywood history,” Heritage Auctions executive vice president Joe Maddalena said in a press release. “This pair is precious, as it hails from the legendary collection of Michael Shaw, and we are honored he has partnered with Heritage. As TCM host Ben Mankiewicz once said, these slippers ‘symbolize hope,’ and we’re thrilled they will journey down the yellow brick road to the auction block to a new home.”

One potential buyer hopes to bring the slippers full circle: the Judy Garland Museum.

Minnesota State senator Justin Eichorn introduced a bill last month to appropriate money for the state’s Historical Society to purchase the slippers at auction, after which point they could be loaned back to the Garland Museum.

The museum has since received $100,000 from the state and continues to pursue various avenues to raise money for the auction, though, the museum doesn’t want to tip its hand, and has not disclosed its goal or current funds raised, only saying it hopes to raise “millions.”

“It’d be a big tourist attraction for Northeastern Minnesota and the state of Minnesota,” Heitz said. “We just think it would be a really great happy ending to this saga for them to find a home. … In "The Wizard of Oz," she's trying to find home. You know, it's kind of like this full circle story of 'let's bring these slippers home.'"

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct.