The Ruby Slippers
I'd already graduated from college before I learned that the Oz scenes in The Wizard of Oz were in color, while the Kansas scenes were in black and white.
It was Louis B. Mayer who decided that Dorothy's magic slippers should be ruby red instead of silver, as they'd been in L. Frank Baum's book. He wanted to show off the recently developed three-strip Technicolor process. None of the Kansas scenes, including the famous scene where Judy Garland sings "Over the Rainbow," was included in the preview, creating the impression that the entire movie was in color.
My father was opposed to television. We were the last family in our neighborhood to get a black and white TV, and we never got a color TV, though they'd been available since the early nineteen-fifties, and were popular by the nineteen-sixties.
My brother and I were restricted from watching more than one hour a week. Most of the time we watched Walt Disney on Sunday nights. We were allowed to watch a two-hour movie once in a while.
The Wizard of Oz was not recognized as a future classic when it first came out. It was TV that established its reputation. In 1956, almost twenty years after the movie was made, CBS offered MGM 1 million dollars for the rights to air Gone With the Wind. When MGM turned them down, CBS offered $225,000 to lease The Wizard of Oz. MGM agreed, and threw in the rights to show the movie annually. My brother and I must have seen it a few years later. I would have been eight, my brother six.
We didn't get to see many movies, and we were glued to the TV, which was on the top floor in the smallest room of our ramshackle three-story house. There was a studio bed from my parents' first apartment squeezed against the wall, but my brother and I usually sat on the rough sisal rug between the bed and the TV in its wooden cabinet.
Once, a rare treat, my mother got us up in the middle of the night to watch a movie starring Clark Gable about the San Francisco earthquake.
My mother always claimed our father looked like Clark Gable when he was young, but I never saw the resemblance. She was a giddy young nurse, only nineteen when they met, excited to be dating an older man who looked like a matinee idol. My father was nine years older than her, a staid and bookish engineer.
Life Magazine called Clark Gable "All man … and then some." He was one of MGM's biggest stars in 1939, when both The Wizard of Oz and "Gone With the Wind" were released. My mother turned thirteen that year.
My mother didn't have many romantic reminiscences about my father. She told the story of his marriage proposal, which didn't sound like much to me. He was being transferred from New York City to Schenectady for his job. He said to her, "Do you want to go to Schenectady?" She said, "Do you mean and get married?" He said, "Yes." That was it. He wanted to buy her a dog for their engagement, but she insisted on a diamond ring. He wasn't transferred to Schenectady after all, but stayed in Manhattan.
According to the actress who played Scarlett O'Hara's youngest sister in Gone With the Wind, Judy Garland would have been cast in her role if Garland hadn't been playing the lead in The Wizard of Oz. Mayer wanted Shirley Temple to play Dorothy, but was unable to persuade 20th Century Fox to loan her to MGM. A father figure remembered fondly by some of his child actors, Mayer was reportedly tyrannical and controlling with others, enforcing a draconian diet on Garland and supplying her with a steady stream of amphetamines and barbiturates.
Elizabeth Taylor called Mayer a "monster." When she was fifteen, she stormed off the set after he told her mother, "I took you and your fucking daughter out of the gutter."
My parents bickered all of the time, their low-level arguments sometimes escalating into shouting and slammed doors. She talked too much, he said. He wanted to read the newspaper in peace. She never had dinner ready. Did he really have to make it himself again? He never wanted to go out, she said. No one appreciated the severity of her illnesses. Did anyone know what it was like to suffer from allergies like hers? Her litany of complaints ended in tears. He glowered, white-faced with rage.
The only thing my parents seemed to agree on was the necessity to save money. Every night when he got home from his long commute from the Battery in lower Manhattan to northern New Jersey, they sat down with cocktails and she recorded his expenses for the day in their penny budget. We weren't poor, though my parents acted like we were. We could definitely have afforded a color TV.
We almost never went to the movies.
A scholarship boy and the first in his family to go to college, my father believed in the value of education. He thought that TV would interfere with our schoolwork. Before Sesame Street, most kids didn't read until the first grade, but he taught us to read before kindergarten with a Phonics book, and compiled reading lists for us to complete every summer after that. Each letter of the alphabet in the Phonics book had a corresponding picture, starting with A for apple. You climbed ladders as you sounded out words. I climbed ladder after ladder.
In the fourth grade I played Dorothy in a school production of The Wizard of Oz. I was cast in the role by popular acclaim because I was the only girl in the class with hair long enough for braids. I wore a pale blue, polished cotton dress with a white collar. The ruby slippers were an old pair of shoes with glitter and red sequins glued on them. I kept them under my bed for years.
Except for the clouds in the opening credits, all of The Wizard of Oz was shot indoors, on sets in the MGM Studios in Culver City, California.
My brother and I spent entire summers outdoors, roaming the woods around the lakes in our town, catching turtles and frogs, fishing for sunnies, building campfires, making forts, and climbing trees. It was an escape from our father's rules, his extra credit math homework and reading lists. The magical forest in the Land of Oz, without the dangers.
Judy Garland was sixteen when the Wizard of Oz was filmed. L. Frank Baum's Dorothy was six, but studio publicity said Dorothy was twelve. Garland wore a corset to flatten her breasts so she would appear prepubescent. She still didn't look twelve.
By the time I was sixteen, Manhattan had become my Emerald City. I used to get on the Greyhound bus and ride an hour to the Port Authority, route 46 my Yellow Brick Road. I picked my way through the bums and winos on 42nd Street, fascinated by the prostitutes in their vinyl hot pants and fake eyelashes and blonde Afro wigs, and the neon signs for girlie shows, pulsing red and green and blue. "Live girls!!! Pussy galore!!!" I walked four long crosstown blocks to Fifth Avenue where I took the bus south to Washington Square and wandered through the Village.
The smell of bus exhaust and garbage and fruity wine still fills me with a sense of adventure.
What stands out from my later viewings of The Wizard of Oz is Judy Garland's bright red lipstick. Checking now, I see that her lipstick appears dark pink in some of the online stills, magenta in others. But I remember it as red, and conspicuously lipstick. Which struck me as odd on a twelve-year old in rural Kansas. Even on a sixteen-year old in a movie.
I wore eyeliner and blue eye shadow and mascara and shiny white lipstick when I was a teenager. Miniskirts and floppy broad-brimmed hats. My hair was long, as it had been when I played Dorothy in the fourth grade. I washed it every day, despite my mother's protests, and ironed it to make it straight.
It didn't occur to me until much later that it was unusual, an adolescent going into the city like that on her own. I was independent and rebellious and truculent. Intrepid. My mother and I fought all the time. She must have decided it was easier to say yes than no.
More than anything I craved escape from the dull Republican suburb I'd grown up in, and New York provided that. I talked to hippies in Washington Square strumming their guitars, heard tales of hitchhiking and life on the road and acid trips. A man with a camera complimented my hair and gave me his card. "Come by my studio. You'd be perfect for a shampoo ad I'm shooting." Hare Krishnas danced in saffron robes. Scientologists gave me invitations to stop by their center for free punch and cookies. I haunted the bookstores, bought poetry by the Beats, and critiques of suburbia like The Organization Man and The Lonely Crowd.
I was too young for the Summer of Love in 1967, which was over the rainbow on the other side of the country, and for Woodstock in 1969, much closer. One of my high school girlfriends snuck off to Woodstock, and I've always envied her that.
Finally I was seventeen and free to leave. A thousand miles and light years away from New Jersey, hippie Ann Arbor was full of adventures—nudists in body paint, flying monkeys, fields of poppies, clouds of pot smoke, psychedelic witches and singing munchkins.
It was everything I'd hoped for. I was not in Kansas any more.
During college, I worked overtime as an office temp at the beginning of each summer, then absconded to London and Paris and Athens and Rome with my earnings. I lived for a year in Ireland. Three years in Germany. Sent my parents a postcard from a surprise trip to Moscow. My father, a Cold War naval architect with a security clearance, wasn't pleased.
In college I discovered I had a brain. In my solo travels I discovered I had courage. In my love affairs and breakups, I discovered I had a heart.
I rarely returned to New Jersey, even for visits. Once you've seen the world in color, why settle for gray?
A few years ago I was wandering through the American History wing of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and ran across an exhibit of popular culture memorabilia. Michael Jackson's hat. Farrah Fawcett's swimsuit. Archie Bunker's chair. Rounding a bend toward the end of the exhibit, I happened upon a glass case displaying Judy Garland's ruby slippers, sparkling under a spotlight.
It's one of the Smithsonian's most popular exhibits, though I didn't know that until I read about it later. The ruby slippers draw an estimated five million viewers a year. The carpet in front of the display has been patched many times, and replaced twice.
The sequined slippers sport flat bows studded with over 40 red glass rhinestones in silver settings. They have one and a half inch heels and red soles. Judy Garland wore the shoes with light blue ankle socks.
There were multiple pairs of ruby slippers made for the movie, in sizes ranging from 5 to 6, and widths ranging from B to D. The pair used for close-up shots was burgundy-colored, as red would have appeared orange in Technicolor. The slippers in the Smithsonian, an anonymous donation, are mismatched. Another pair was stolen from the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 2005. Some are owned by private collectors. Debbie Reynolds owned an Arabian test pair with curled toes that was never used. Lady Gaga claims to have acquired a pair in 2011, but their authenticity has been disputed. One of the original pairs was supposedly chewed up by Toto.
The private collector whose ruby slippers were stolen from the Judy Garland Museum was not appeased by the insurance settlement. "I'm still furious," he told a reporter at Forbes. "For so many people, they represented home, love and childhood security. That's what people saw when they looked at the slippers. And now they're gone."
I'm eight years old, enrapt by the flickering images on the TV screen. The Wicked Witch of the West has melted, the Wizard has been unmasked, and Glinda the Good Witch of the North has alighted in her shimmering orb to tell Dorothy about the ruby slippers. They're dark gray on our black and white TV, but my brother and I know they're red and sparkly. Glinda swirls her magic wand in hypnotic circles. Dorothy closes her eyes, taps her heels together three times, and obediently repeats, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home." I sit crouched on my knees in front of the TV and look at my brother. He looks at me. Why would she want to go back to Kansas?
Jacqueline Doyle's work has appeared in PANK, Confrontation, South Dakota Review, Ninth Letter Online, Southern Indiana Review, The Rumpus, Cold Mountain Review, and the Online Companion to Grist. Her essays have earned Pushcart nominations from Southern Humanities Review and South Loop Review, and a Notable Essay citation in Best American Essays 2013. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she teaches at California State University, East Bay. www.facebook.com/authorjacquelinedoyle.