HISTORY: 1938 - 1970
TOO PLAIN FOR TECHNICOLOR
A rhinestone star topped wand from "The Wizard of Oz" has publicly surfaced, 78 years after the film was released. What's so interesting about it is that this wand is one that almost nobody realized existed, as only one black and white photo of the wand has turned up in any studio photos. This wand most likely would also be visible in costume test photos taken early on during production, or in black and white promotional shots - but none of those have ever publicly surfaced.
This wand design was created using two metal rods that pieced together. The bottom rod features a small finial detail, while the top rod has a slight taper to it. The tapered end of the top rod was then split, and a thin metal star was placed inside the cut and welded or soldered into place. The smaller top staff was then taken and the star encrusted with clear chaton style rhinestones using a thick glue. Both sides of the star were covered in the stones, as were the all of the edges. The height of the rhinestones gave the 2mm thick metal star a thicker and larger appearance. The top rod was then inserted into the bottom rod, creating a tall, elegant wand for Glinda the Good Witch.
This more plain design utilized all clear rhinestones, which was too plain for a Technicolor production, and so the design for the screen used wands was given a more colorful appearance. The studio used the same two piece rod design from this wand for the wands used in the final film. The film used wand stars were made thicker, and instead of the rod wrapping around them like the clear rhinestone wand, the rods were inserted into the base of the stars. The middle section of the screen used stars had a more haphazard rhinestone application than the all clear rhinestone wand, meaning that the stones on those wands may have been individually placed.
Even though no costume tests or actual publicity photos of Billie Burke as Glinda have publicly surfaced, Ms. Burke did pose in her full Glinda costume on October 30, 1939, several months after the film was released, for a photograph taken by MGM studio photographer Clarence Bull. This photo, visible at the top of this page, was explained in the book The Wizardry of Oz by William Stillman and Jay Scarfone:
'At age fifty-three, Billie Burke's Glinda was a heavenly vision that prompted reviewers' raves. ("[Burke] appears almost like a being eternally young," praised the Los Angeles Times.) Six months after she completed her last takes for The Wizard of Oz, Burke was still tickled with her finished appearance. Encouraged by the picture's accolades, she arranged for Metro's top portrait photographer, Clarence Sinclair Bull, to capture her in all her glittering splendor as Glinda. Burke then had the best portrait of the sitting redrawn as a charcoal sketch and printed up as a Christmas card with the greeting, "May your dearest wish come true."'
Ms. Burke was photographed with the all clear rhinestone wand instead of one of the wands made with colored stones. I believe that the clear rhinestones would photograph better in black and white, as the colored stones simply photographed as differing shades of grey and would bring no colorful interest to the photo.
While there is no documented history of the creation of the wands, one can piece together the history of why this particular wand was not used in the film, based on other facts we know about the production. We know that the studio changed Dorothy's "silver shoes" to "Ruby Slippers" because silver shoes were deemed too plain for a Technicolor film. We also know that the studio tested a number of different costumes for the cast, most notably Judy Garland who was subjected to a number of varying dresses and hairstyles. Being that Glinda's wand is such a prominent piece of her costume, and she holds it in every scene she is in, there is little doubt that Gilbert Adrian put much thought into the design. While none of Glinda's costume test photos have turned up, we are lucky that the one photo of her with this wand exists. There is a possibility that the bottom portion of the staff may have been used in the final film, but there will never be any way to verify this as all three of the wand bases were identical.
After the October 30, 1939 photograph was taken, the wand was put back in storage, possibly on the third floor of the ladies' character wardrobe where the other "Oz" costumes were kept. By 1970, this building, which had been built around 1915 as a garage for the Ince Triangle Studios, was in very poor condition. Many of the costumes and props in the old garage were exposed to the elements due to holes in the roof. The terrible storage conditions could very easily explain the current condition of the wand, as a very 'crusty' green patina has developed on the metal portions of the staff, more noticeably on one side than the other.
HISTORY: 1970 SALES
The following information is what I was able to gather when researching the authenticity of the wand on this site, after being approached by the previous owner.
I have several friends in the Oz community who work with the Land of Oz theme park in Beech Mountain, NC. I was told by one of these friends that one of the children of someone who used to operate the theme park remembered Glinda's wand coming to the park with a number of other Oz props and costumes in 1970. The Land of Oz theme park was opened in 1970 by Grover Robbins, who sadly passed away just weeks before the park opened. In preparation for the opening of the park, Grover sent his son Spencer to Culver City, CA to purchase props and costumes from the 1939 film version of "The Wizard of Oz." I contacted Spencer through his son Shane to inquire about the rumor of Glinda's wand being purchased by the theme park.
According to Spencer Robbins, both of the screen used Glinda wands were purchased by their family at the MGM auction, along with a number of other original "Oz" costumes and props. Both wands were housed at the park, but neither wand was exhibited to the public. According to the Spencer, both wands were destroyed in a fire that happened at the park in the mid to late 1970s, and no photographs of the screen used wands are believed to survive outside of production of "The Wizard of Oz."
The MGM auction of 1970 presented an opportunity for antique and collectible stores from around the country to purchase Hollywood treasures at bargain prices. Newspaper ads from 1970 indicate that many sellers purchased tons of props from the sale, with the intent to resell them. The clear stone wand was purchased by one of these resellers from the auction company.
I reached out to Judy Carroll, daughter of David Weisz, the owner of the auction company that handled the MGM sale in 1970. Judy was a big part of the behind the scenes of the auction, and her name often comes up with people authenticating items that were sold at the MGM sale. I told Judy my findings about this wand, as well as included a number of photographs of the wand. Realizing that over 350,000 items were sold at the sale, I had doubts that she might remember one item that was never sold in the big ticket auction sales.
Judy responded that her memory does falter now, but she doesn't remember any of the Glinda wands reaching the auctioneers, neither for the auction or any tag sale. She did note that her father had sold a large number of the MGM items directly to people prior to the auction, and that this wand could have been one of those sales, as could the wands that went to Land of Oz.
As for the reseller who bought the wand, the only clue to this seller's identity is the company name "H.E. & A., Inc.," which was used to advertise the studio sales in newspapers in the San Bernardino, CA area. This company name appeared nowhere else, and was never registered as a corporation with the State of California. The sales were hosted in the back of the "House of Stereo" store at 456 W Foothill, Rialto, CA.
Based on public records and old newspaper files, I have been able to learn that the Belco Electronics House of Stereo store was in operation from late 1969 until it closed in October 1970, immediately after the studio prop sales ended. In June of 1970, the owner of the stereo store posted a classified ad looking to sell of of the business for $15,000 or the whole business for $25,000. The ad also indicated that the owner was partially disabled and looking for someone who he could teach to run the business. It appears as though he was either having trouble running the store, or was not generating enough income to keep the store in operation. The records also indicated that the store owner was named "Alfred Birch."
Alfred Birch, who was doing business as "House of Stereo" as well as "Belco Rialto Auction," declared bankruptcy shortly after the store closed. One judgment against him from a sign making company came to almost $10,000, and after the failure of the store, he had no income to pay this and other debts. "Belco Rialto Auction" has never turned up in any newspaper files, but a store called "Belco Electronics" was in operation in 1969 in El Monte, CA - the same town where one man named Alfred Birch was living.
Several men with the name "Alfred Birch" lived in California around the time of the studio sales, and I believe that the British born "Alfred Leonard Birch" was the stereo store owner. Born in 1921, Alfred came to America in 1955 with his wife Elsie "Doreen" Birch. He was employed in a book store in the 1960's, I believe for Helen and Adolph Vargas of Los Angeles. They moved around a bit, having lived in El Monte (around the time that the Belco Electronics store was open), as well as San Diego, San Gabriel, and Whittier, CA.
As of 1971, less than a year after the stereo store closed, the Birches had moved to San Diego and Alfred began working at American Locksmithing. They eventually moved to Las Vegas, where Doreen passed away in 1993, and Alfred in 1997, while living in what has been described as "extremely low income senior housing." The failure of the stereo store seems to have been something from which the Birches never recovered. They had no children, so tracking down more information has been difficult thus far. It is my belief that Alfred, along with an unknown partner, purchased and resold the MGM props in the House of Stereo store.
A total of six MGM studio property sales were advertised from August - October of 1970. After the store closed, the House of Stereo building became the Sierra Bakery, and is now used by commercial bakery that is closed to the public.
In 1970, thirty year old Mary McIntire saw the studio sale advertisement in the newspaper green sheets and decided it would be something she wanted to attend. Looking back in late 2016, she spoke about the sale she attended: people frantically digging through crates stamped "MGM Studios" in an attempt to find some sort of movie treasure. During the chaos, Mary saw someone knock over a very tall metal star topped wand. Mary picked up the wand because it reminded her of the one Glinda had carried in "The Wizard of Oz." It wasn't sold to her with any such guarantee, but she loved it regardless. She can't remember what she paid for it, but she does know that for the wand and the other items she purchased, she spent less than $20.00. The wand would stay with her for the next 47 years, and it was something she always cherished, although she rarely showed it to people outside of her home because she didn't know if it was really Glinda's wand, and she didn't want to mislead anyone.
Clear rhinestone wand as photographed in January, 2017.
One of several sales advertised in the San Bernardino Sun in 1970. Sale dates were: Saturday, August 22 & Sunday, August 23; Saturday, September 5 & Sunday, September 6; and the final sales held Saturday, October 3 & Sunday, October 4. Mary does not remember which sale she attended, but she knows it was on a Saturday.
Rear of 456 W Foothill Blvd, Rialto, CA as it appeared in January, 2017. Glinda's wand was purchased in this building that is no longer open to the public.
Rhinestone detail on the clear stone wand, January, 2017.
The clear stone wand revealing a replica pair of the Ruby Slippers, reminiscent of a scene from the 1939 film. June, 2018.
MGM studios map showing the machine shop where the metal work for Glinda's wands would have been done. Bottom photo shows the building from an aerial perspective.
An area at the Land of Oz theme park where some original Oz costumes were on display. These costumes were purchased by Spencer Robbins for use in the park, along with Glinda's screen used wands. It is interesting to note that a spear is visible in the background behind Dorothy's dress - this spear is the style attributed to use in 1959's Ben Hur, but the piece had been sold in the Oz lot of props and costumes at the MGM auction.
While researching the Ruby Slippers and MGM auction for a book I was working on, I came across a posting on a Hollywood history site from a woman who had inquired how to authenticate a wand that she believed was Glinda's from the film. I reached out to her and was told her mother, Mary, had attended the MGM auction and purchased it there - which ended up being true, except it was AN MGM auction, and not THE MGM auction. I gave the woman the contact information of my friend who could help authenticate the wand and made a note of her mother's name to try and reach out to her about her attendance at the MGM sale in the future.
Almost a year later, I went through my list of people I had been told had attended the MGM auction, and Mary's name was on the list. I sent her a letter about what I was researching to see if she could provide any information about the MGM auction she attended so I could include it in my book. Mary called me and said she had purchased an item at the sale that she was interested in finding more information on, and asked if I would be willing to help her. I jumped at the opportunity, and spent hours and hours compiling any information I could find on the wands used in the movie. Aside from the Ruby Slippers, the wand was the only other item I had tried to replicate in the past, and my attempt was pretty poor. I was in my early teens and created my own wand with sequins, poster board and a spray painted wooden dowel. My vision was a bit off from the real thing... Mary described the wand for me: the star and staff portions were made of metal, with a rhinestone encrusted star on top, in total measuring around 56" in height, with a decorative finial at the base. The star on top was less than 3" tall, and there were no colored rhinestones on it, which led me to believe it was either a costume test wand, or that the studio had painted the rhinestones at one point and the paint had worn off (they did this on some rhinestones on one pair of ruby slippers when they were damaged, so it wouldn't be out of the question).
I sent her this information over the course of several months, but I needed some reference photos of her wand to see if it was one of the props from the movie. I knew there were two thanks to a behind the scenes photo showing two wands on set in Munchkinland, and I wasn't sure if she had one of these wands, or a third that may have been tested and not used.
As Mary was now in her mid-70s, she was having a hard time getting photos sent to me, so I ended up flying out to meet her during a research trip to California. As soon as her husband brought the wand out, I knew it was the one visible in the black and white photo of Billie Burke taken after filming. Even though the condition isn't perfect, I was still able to line up the remaining rhinestones with the rhinestones in the photo taken in 1939. I had chills while touching the wand, and I don't think I took my hands off of it the entire time I was there.
Prior to my visit, Mary had expressed an interest in perhaps selling the wand after keeping it safe for 47 years. I never dreamed I could buy such an item, but I had a small amount of money at the time and offered her all of it. Mary was very interested in my plans to exhibit the wand at different museums, but she and her husband needed more money than what I could offer. While it was disappointing not to be able to bring it home, Mary assured me that the wand wasn't going anywhere, so I planned to start saving and looking into loans so I could make an offer that would give Mary and her husband the money they needed. Even with a loan for part of the amount from my sister, it took nearly 10 months to come up with that amount, and Mary called me to accept my offer on September 11, 2017.
I flew back to California three weeks after receiving her call, and during my visit we chatted for almost four hours. Mary explained that she knew she could have gotten more money for the wand, and while she likes money just as everyone else does, selling the wand for top dollar was not her priority. Instead, she wanted to be sure that it would go to someone who would also cherish it, and my idea of displaying it in different museums really appealed to her. The money I gave her is going to be put into a fund that helps to build churches, and when Mary and her husband pass, the money will cover their final expenses. December 2018 update: Mary and I have kept in touch since I purchased the wand from her, and during our last correspondence she let me know that her husband, Gerald, passed away just seven months after I purchased the wand. The money I gave to her paid his hospital bills and funeral expenses, and Mary expressed that she sold the wand at the right time and to the right person.
She has truly loved and cared for Glinda's wand, and all true Oz fans owe her a debt of gratitude for saving a piece of movie history for us.
Ever since I was a child I wondered what became of Glinda's wand, almost as much as I wondered what happened to the Ruby Slippers. As I got older, more information became available on the shoes, but I never heard anything about any part of Glinda's costume surfacing publicly. The whereabouts of the wand specifically was a question in the back of my mind even just a few years ago, and I don't know if it was coincidence or fate that led me to find my answer.
The clear stone wand as photographed in January, 2017. The staff shows signs of patina, tarnish and oxidation, as do the metal settings that hold the glass rhinestones. Rhinestones are missing on both sides of the star, as well as a number of stones missing from the edges.
Screen used wands as seen in the final film. The rhinestone pattern on the edges of the front and back, as well as the sides of the star appear to be the same as the clear stone wand. The middle section, however, appears to be more haphazard and does not follow the 5x5 stone cutout design that the clear stone wand utilized. More of the silver star also appears to be visible behind the rhinestones on some parts of the screen used wands. The stones on the screen used wand are flat backed instead of pointed like on the clear stone wand. The clear stone wand star was incredibly thin and needed the pointed back rhinestones to thicken the appearance of the star. The screen used stars were made thicker, and so there was no need for the taller pointed back stones.
A studio worker can be seen bringing a 2nd wand to Billie Burke on set in 1938. According to the family of park creator Grover Robbins, both of these wands were purchased by the Land of Oz theme park at the MGM auction, and destroyed in a fire in the 1970s.
A screen used wand, as photographed in black and white. The colored rhinestones are very visible on the star in this photo, which helped me rule out the possibility that one of the screen used wands was used for the photo taken of Billie Burke after the film was released.
Finial detail as photographed on set. I was never able to turn up any photographs that showed this part of the wand in great detail, aside from this shot.
Finial detail at the bottom of the clear stone wand as photographed in January, 2017.
A side by side comparison of the wand as it appeared in January, 2017 next to the photograph taken of it in 1939. Even with the missing rhinestones, you can match up the layout between the two photos. The other side of the wand was used for the 1939 photo.
The thin metal star is visible under where the rhinestones have come off. The screen used stars were thicker than this star to allow the rod to be inserted inside them.
One side of the bottom rod has more patina on it than the other, leading me to believe the other side would have been towards the floor or wall while it was stored on the MGM lot from 1939 - 1970 (and that it probably wasn't moved during that time). The metal under the patina still shines like it did in the film and is very smooth to the touch.
Wand topper detail, October, 2017.
The comment that started it all. Emily posted this question on the Silver Screen Modes website on an entry about Wizard of Oz costumes. I reached out to her from here and learned that her mother had attended an MGM sale. Click the photo to go to the page.
The first and possibly only museum exhibition of Glinda's wand, October 2018 - October 2019.