What you see: A test wand designed for Glinda the Good Witch from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Bonhams declines to give a numerical figure for the hero prop, instructing bidders to “refer to department for estimate”.
The expert: Dr. Catherine Williamson, director of books and manuscripts and entertainment memorabilia for Bonhams.
Why would MGM have felt the need to build a test wand for Glinda the Good Witch? Did they only do that for what we now call “hero” props, or would the MGM prop department have built test versions of pretty much everything visible on screen during The Wizard of Oz to make sure it would look good in Technicolor? They certainly did it with all the costumes. It’s probably more helpful to think of the wand as part of Glinda’s costume, rather than like the hourglass or one of the trees. There was a lot of testing and tweaking in preproduction on The Wizard of Oz. They went through several iterations for the pinafore Dorothy wears, and the same with her hair. The wand would have been tested as part of of Glinda’s overall look.
L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, specified that Dorothy’s slippers were silver. They were changed to ruby slippers for the movie because red looked better against the yellow brick road. Did Baum say anything about Glinda’s appearance that would have given guidance to the prop masters when making the test wand? I don’t know the answer to that, but in general, they tried to stay true to what they knew about what was there. By bringing in Gilbert Adrian, one of the visionary, edgier costume designers, they wanted to put their stamp on the story. Glinda’s wand was a subset of her costume, so it came under that umbrella, as did the ruby slippers.
What’s the difference between the Glinda test wand and the Glinda wand that was used on screen? The first version had clear rhinestones. Because they wanted even more glitz and sparkle on camera, they designed wands with clear and colored stones. Because they were shooting in Technicolor, the colored stones give that much more of a flash on screen. And the wand had to stand up to the rest of Glinda’s costume, which is also pretty spectacular.
What can we tell, just by looking, about how challenging the Glinda wand was to make? I suspect it wasn’t that hard. Yeah, I don’t think so. It’s a long staff, a fabricated piece of white metal with a finial on the bottom. The star is another finial that screws in [to the top of the staff]. I’m assuming the rhinestones were done by hand.
Two Glinda wands with colored rhinestones were made for on-screen use. Where are they now? They’re gone. The context for when all this stuff was released in the world is the MGM liquidation sale held in 1970. The two wands with colored stones were bought by people in North Carolina who opened a theme park, The Land of Oz, which had a museum portion. They bought a ton of stuff. They had Munchkin costumes and a Dorothy dress. It was active from the early 1970s to 1980. Then a fire broke out and all the property was destroyed. So this is it. This is the only one. [Editor’s note: The Land of Oz theme park in North Carolina has been revived on a smaller scale and offers events during the summer and early fall.]
No test photos survive that show Billie Burke, who played Glinda, holding the wand, but she had an MGM photographer take a shot of herself in costume, with this particular wand. How did that image come about? I don’t think it was rogue or off the book. It was a promotional shot for the film, and it would have been shot anyway, but Burke had some control over who shot it and how it looked. She liked it so much, she ordered copies of the photo, and she incorporated a sketch of it into her holiday card.
Why would Burke and the photographer have wanted the test version of the Glinda wand for this image? It’s more flattering for black and white. The colored stones wouldn’t have looked as good. They would have looked grey, which is not what you want.
The Glinda wand measures 56.50 inches. That’s long–almost five feet long. Why did the movie producers want it to be this length? Did it help Billie Burke move in a more restrained and regal way? That’s a good question. Maybe Billie Burke is taller than we think. It doesn’t dwarf her when she carries it. Maybe it’s that long because that’s how Glinda does her magic–she does it with a wand, and they wanted it to have substance. Its length does make it harder for the actress to move on screen, but it looks more powerful.
I guess the Glinda wand also has to compete to be seen against the backdrop of the pink poufty Good Witch dress, and the colors of Munchkinland… I didn’t realize it was this size. I never thought about how long it was until it came to us. It’s possible they wanted it to be noticeable. It is thicker than a smaller wand would be. Maybe it’s that long to show up against the bling of the Glinda dress. Or maybe for it to be proportional, it had to be that long.
Speaking of which, what is the Glinda wand like in person? Sometimes, when you see props from famous movies, you notice things about them that you never notice on the screen. But what you really take away from it is the magic it creates on screen. With a touch of the wand, Glinda can send you to Kansas. It is magical what they do with a prosaic piece of metal.
When you get right down to it, it’s just a stick. [Laughs] And the shoes are just shoes.
Have you held the Glinda wand? I have not held it. My colleague and the photographer have held it. I’ve tried to minimize contact with it because I don’t want people knocking the rhinestones off. But it’s sturdy. I guess it’s probably two or three pounds altogether. You don’t need two hands–you can hold it with one.
How many hero props from The Wizard of Oz has Bonhams handled? In 2014, we sold the Cowardly Lion costume for just over $3 million. I think that was the most expensive Oz costume. The next year, we had a Dorothy dress that sold for $1.5 million.
Did you look to the Cowardly Lion costume and the Dorothy dress as comparable lots to consider when setting the estimate for the Glinda wand? We’re not publishing the estimate at the client’s request, but I can tell you it’s in the low six figures. But those were comparables.
How does the Glinda wand compare to the Cowardly Lion costume and the Dorothy dress? They’re very different, but one of the things that’s nice about the wand is it’s portable and easy to display. I can tell you it was on exhibit at the Smithsonian recently, next to the ruby slippers, for a fairly long period of time. The Smithsonian could fit it fairly easily into their exhibition space. It’s not as fragile as a dress [or other textiles].
What condition is the Glinda wand in? There’s some paint loss and there’s a patina to it. I think it’s missing a few rhinestones. Otherwise, I think it’s pretty good, considering it’s 80 years old.
The sale that includes the Glinda wand is called TCM Presents…1939, Hollywood’s Greatest Year. Did you receive this piece on consignment and view it as a tentpole for a 1939-themed sale, or did you come up with the 1939 idea and then go out looking for 1939 material? It did sort of start almost a year ago with the wand. The consigner approached us with this pretty early. Then I realized that 2019 was the 80th anniversary of 1939, and reached out to get 1939 material.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? This is the first thing I’ve ever sold that was once on exhibit at the Smithsonian, which is pretty great. And it’s not the central plot device of the film, but it’s the second most important one. A lot of things depend on Glinda waving her wand. It moves the ruby slippers to Dorothy’s feet, and it’s behind her head in the resolution of the film. For one prop to do those two things is amazing.
Images are courtesy of Bonhams.
Dr. Catherine Williamson has appeared on The Hot Bid twice before, talking about the record-setting auction of Robby the Robot and discussing the original poster artwork for the Italian release of Sylvia Scarlett, a 1935 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.
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