Red slippers: From the Department of No Place Like Homeland Security

Red Tread Redemption

The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota in Minneapolis has indicted a man named Terry Martin for the 2005 theft of a pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.

“The ruby slippers in question, which were recovered in July 2018 in a sting operation by the FBI and Grand Rapids Police Department after a 13-year search… and are among the most recognizable memorabilia in American film history.” — Deadline

Why Martin didn’t click his heels and escape is anyone’s guess. A more interesting question, however, is why the ruby red slippers continue to possess such a talismanic quality in culture…

More than mere McGuffin, the shoes are tantamount to a Hollywood Holy Grail, ever since their initial auction by MGM in 1970 for… wait for it… $15,000. Recent insurance estimates put them at $3.5 million today. Now, multiply that figure by four — that’s how many pairs of ruby slippers remain, which lends a sort of Horcrux-like potency to their mythology.

If an ambitious art thief wanted to risk a charge of “theft of an object of cultural heritage from the care, custody or control of a museum” and, say, reconstitute the soul of the Wicked Witch of the West, Voldemort-style, they would have to hit the Smithsonian in D.C., the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in LA, then ascertain the identity of the two private collectors who own remaining pairs. Talk about the apotheosis of shoe fetishes! 

My money’s on Elton John for at least one pair. If Sir Elton finally decides his future lies beyond the yellow brick road he can gift the shoes to Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie who is fascinated with The Wizard of Oz and wrote one of my favorite British Film Institute monographs about the film.

Rather than being a mere bromide delivery system, Rushdie suggests that the film “speaks to exile.” Sure, “there’s no place like home” but especially so if you’re swept away by a tornado or some ayatollah or other declares a fatwa on you. But Dorothy’s shoes — they worked. Three clicks and a montage and — poof! — you’re back in vivid black and white. 

Speaking of notions of home and the emotionally transportive magic movie props…

I spied Milner’s 1932 Ford Coupe in my hometown Petaluma, CA, today. It’s apparently time for the annual tribute to the film that made our town the living movie set it remains today:  George Lucas’ American Graffiti (cinephiles: check the plate). To me, this proves you can’t go home again but you can always park your nostalgia downtown.

The Rabbit Hole

Point your browser here for a good time:

On the Media: Brooke Gladstone speaks with former TV critic turned TV writer Emily St. James to debunk myths about the writers’ strike (including the notion that the 2007 strike led to the rise of reality TV, thus the ascendency of The Apprentice, which provided Donald Trump a national platform leading to the presidency — yikes!).

Vanity Fair: Emily St. James’ original Vanity Fair column on the above. 

Bohemian: And finally… My own recent column on the writers’ strike for the North Bay Bohemian.

Enjoy, DH

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