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One wicked theft: Dorothy's red slippers
Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune


August 30, 2005

Was it the Wicked Witch? Who else this past weekend could have stolen the sequined ruby slippers Dorothy wore in "The Wizard of Oz" - the most famous pair of shoes in movie history and the toughest shoes to fill in Judy Garland's hometown of Grand Rapids, Minn.?

The size 5 1/2 slippers, which once survived a trip from Oz to Kansas, skipping their way down a yellow brick road and nearly floating over the rainbow, aren't at the Children's Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids anymore. They were reported stolen Sunday.

Even after an anonymous tip Monday, the slippers' owner was not optimistically clicking his heels about their immediate return.

Insured for $1 million, the 66-year-old slippers are one of four pairs remaining from the 1939 classic film that launched Garland's career. They are owned by Hollywood memorabilia collector Michael Shaw, who had lent them to the Grand Rapids museum for 10 weeks this summer, as he did in 2004. Shaw, who personally transported the delicate slippers, saying he always wears gloves while handling them, had planned to arrive in Minnesota on Friday to pick them up.

"People knew this was going to be the shoes' last week at the museum," Shaw said by telephone from Hollywood. "That's why I feel somebody might have been planning this a long time."

Nothing else was taken, but this was no Munchkin-sized heist. One of the remaining pairs of ruby slippers was auctioned for $660,000 five years ago.

The slippers, stuffed for decades with tissue, are too delicate to be worn, said Shaw, who once tried to have a sequined seam restitched, but found the shoes too fragile. He is convinced Garland is the only one who wore them.

If the form-filling tissue is removed, the shoes could fall apart, he said.

As the most famous symbol of a movie seen by more than 3 billion people, the slippers "are the pinnacle of Hollywood," said John Kelsch, director of the 11-year-old Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids.

"We're devastated," Kelsch said.

The slippers, locked in the museum Saturday night, were discovered missing by museum assistant Kathe Johnson at 9:45 a.m. Sunday, Kelsch said. Johnson noticed an odd signal from a security control panel.

An emergency exit had been tampered with, Kelsch said.

Grand Rapids police were investigating an anonymous call that Kelsch received at 9:50 a.m. Monday, from an informant who named a collector supposedly responsible for the burglary, Shaw said.

But Shaw, who said he received a note last month warning that "someone's going to rip them off," said he doubted the informant had any credibility.

Shaw would not say what he paid for the slippers and other "Wizard of Oz" collectibles at an MGM auction more than 30 years ago, other than "it was the deal of the millennium." Often, he said, people tell him, "I'd give anything to own them." Or, "I've got to have them."

But to Shaw, who said he lends the slippers to benefits to help orphaned children come together with prospective adoptive families, or for AIDS benefits, the slippers are priceless.

For Grand Rapids, the community 200 miles north of the Twin Cities where Garland lived until she was 41/2, the slippers were the footprints of a tourist legacy.

Garland's cradle, the first professional photograph she ever appeared in, her father's golf clubs and the largest selection of Oz memorabilia in Minnesota can be found in Grand Rapids, said Lilah Crowe, director of the Itasca County Historical Society.

Garland, whose name was Frances Gumm when she lived in Grand Rapids, died in 1969 of a barbiturate overdose, but her legend lives on for the thousands of admirers who trek to the town in which she lived before moving to California as a preschooler.

"This is where they belong," Kelsch said.

There's no place like home. There's no place like home.


Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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