By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood February 22, 2012 at 4:28PM
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences did not buy anything at the recent Debbie Reynolds' auction --even though iconic costumes were being sold that would seem must-owns for an organization planning a major Hollywood museum. Well, with help from collectors Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg, the Academy has finally stepped up and acquired Dorothy's ruby slippers, a pair that Judy Garland wore on-screen in 1939's "The Wizard of Oz." They will be part of the collection at the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
Joe Maddalena, owner of Profiles in History, helped to arrange the sale of the ruby slippers) to the Academy. "They are the Holy Grail of all Hollywood Memorabilia," said Rhys Thomas, author of "The Ruby Slippers of Oz." "Far more than just a pair of red-sequined shoes, they are an indelible icon of a uniquely American fairy tale. And of the four pairs of authentic ruby slippers known to exist, this pair offered by Profiles in History, marked '#7 Judy Garland' and known as the 'Witch's Shoes,' are the most important and most valuable. Without question, they are the 'close-up' shoes, worn by Garland when she clicks her heels three times. They are the 'take me home to Kansas,' shoes, transcending Hollywood, representing an enduring symbol of the power of belief."
Four pairs of screen-used ruby slippers are known to have survived the seventy years since the film's release. One pair is the centerpiece of the Icons of American Culture exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History; it's one of the most asked about artifacts on display, and the carpet in front of it is so worn that it keeps having to be replaced. Alas, another pair was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The third pair is in private hands and is unlikely to reach the market in the near future.
The fourth pair are in the most pristine condition. 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.
The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation led a group of "angel donors" to the Academy Foundation who enabled the purchase. Also donating were Steven Spielberg and Terry Semel, co-chair of LACMA and the former chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. and Yahoo!, among others.
"The ruby slippers occupy an extraordinary place in the hearts of movie audiences the world over," stated 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."
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.