Like many elements in the 1939 film, Dorothy's ruby slippers have passed into the realm of popular legend to become, quite possibly, the most famous piece of costuming in all of motion picture history. Their inclusion in Return to Oz was never really un question, and they are the only genuine physical and visual tie that viewers of the newer Oz film will have to the earlier one. But their appearance in such a major cinematic effort did pose problems, both legal and physical.
As created by Baum, the slippers were, of course, not "ruby" at all, but silver. When MGM changed the color in 1938, they became an integral part of their film, - as well as MGM pproperty. To avoid copyright infringement, special permission had to be obtained from Metro in order for the ruby slippers to appear in a Disney picture.
The new ruby slippers were hand-made by McPail. In all, he crafted seven pairs of shoes: two pair (size 3) for Ozma, two pair (Size 11) for the Nome King, and the remaining three for Dorothy. The shoes are worn by all three characters at different times in the film.
In construction, McPhail started with a plain red leather cork shoe with a Louis heel. This was then covered with reflective fabric onto which multi-faceted glass rubies were attached. These red stones, imported from Austria, first had to be soaked in sulfuric acid in order to remove their mercury backing. Then, two optical glues were used to attach and hold them in place: one sprayed directly on the fabric and a second attached directly to the shoes. Because of their faceting, each stone had to be place individually on each shoe.
To complicate matters further, no amount of glue was able to hold all the stones permanently in place - especially when they were jostled by under hot sound stage lights by active little girls.
The sparkling beauty of the slippers was later enhanced in post-production by the additional optical effects, which make the slippers seem to "glow" on screen.
"Fairuza Balk simply could not stay still between scenes," McPhail remembers. "After all, she's only 10 years old - you can't expect children to stay put. Even sitting in a chair, she would do things like tap her feet and click her shoes together. The stones would go rolling across the sound stage, and I would chase after them. We finally had to take the shoes off her between shots but, even so, I would end up sweeping the stage at the end of each day to try and collect whatever had fallen off."
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