By Scott Sullivan
Who stole the ruby slippers? When they were pilfered from Mike Shaw — not the Saugatuck High School Interact Club advisor, but an acting coach with the same name who’d bought a pair used in “The Wizard of Oz” movie and was displaying them in 2005 at the Judy Garland Museum — David Letterman joked the suspect was “armed and fabulous.”
The crime scene was Garland’s birthplace Grand Rapids — not the Michigan one near Saugatuck-Douglas I call The Emerald City; but Grand Rapids, Minn., a mining town of 10,000 that’s even more like Kansas.
There, Frances Gumm won fame as one of three singing Gumm Sisters till, as a teen, she eschewed that name, choosing the supposedly more-glamorous Judy Garland.
The rest is misery. “I remember (her time in Grand Rapids) was terribly happy,” Garland recalled later. “Possibly the only normal, carefree time in my life, and it was only for three years.”
The FBI announced last fall they’d recovered the slippers, but wouldn’t say where they had been for 13 years or who took them. “This is an ongoing investigation,” U.S. attorney Christopher Myers said, “so we will not talk about the facts.”
That’s my rule too. If you expect facts from lawyers or journalists, you’re over the rainbow or under the influence. Are you terribly happy to pay us hide truth because you can’t handle it?
Truth and facts are different. We can cherry-pick and frame facts, withhold inconvenient ones and convince people predisposed to believe us anyway not by lying, just being selective.
The slippers have been recovered, but clicking their heels will bring them no place like home, be that Hollywood or Grand Rapids, until the agency says so, if then.
The FIB — sorry, FBI, I’m dyslexic — is hanging onto the slippers until it completes its investigation or some insider can unload them.
Think drugs you’ve confiscated from criminals have street value? The shoes, one assumes, have more. On the other foot, what do you do with a hot pair of ruby slippers? How many Yellow Brick Roads can you dance on before you’re spotted?
The five pairs used in the movie’s making were dispersed 1970 when cash-starved MGM liquidated old costumes, props and sets. Legend holds young costumer Kent Warner climbed into warehouse rafters and there, among dust and darkness, a sliver of light through a ceiling hole made something sparkle. The ruby slippers!.
The other four pairs are in collections and accounted for. Warner’s friend Shaw bought the last set for $2,500 and took them on tour, charging venues such as the Garland Museum to display them.
Rumors flew in Grand Rapids after the theft — one being Shaw, who collected $800,000 from a reluctant insurance company two years later — had defrauded them.
The shoes’ magic persists inasmuch as you still can make money off them. A July 2017 call from a self-proclaimed middleman led to a Minneapolis FBI sting where the pair was found.
Say you too want to dance on the Yellow Brick Road — or on Center Street during Douglas’ Halloween Parade — but buying a “real” pair fabricated for a fictional film is too rich for you? With Keds, glitter and a glue gun you can do wonders.
As with most of us, Garland’s vehicle was her obstacle. Before dying at age 47 from an overdose, the star who reversed being born reflected, “I’ve always taken ‘The Wizard of Oz’ very seriously. I believe in the idea of the rainbow and I’ve spent my entire life trying to get over it.”
Maybe she missed the film’s counter-theme that your obstacle is your vehicle. Waking up where clouds are behind us and troubles melt like lemon drops is fine if we know at the same time those troubles and clouds are the friends we need.
As the Cowardly Lion learns fear teaches courage and Tin Man knows that he has a heart as he feels it breaking, everything we are looking for is right there with us all along.