There's no place like home, but not for beloved movie props, which are frequently lost despite their high market value.
A blue and white gingham dress worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, found buried in the drama department at the Catholic University of America and expected to fetch over $1 million at an auction later this month, is only the latest of the iconic pieces that were at least briefly misplaced. Pieces such as the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, the treasure map from The Goonies, and the golden gun from The Man with the Golden Gun are among those that have been lost or stolen over the years.
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Each set piece has its own story of how it was passed down after the movie or television series was over, Helen Hall, director of pop culture at Bonhams auction house, told the Washington Examiner. As the market for film memorabilia only began to take hold in the 1990s, pieces might have been picked up by workers or actors on the set, Hall said.
"Back in the day, when these things didn't really have a value, people who worked on the films would take stuff, and it was fair game to just retain a costume or a prop or whatever," Hall told the Washington Examiner. "Now, the studios keep track of the props and costumes, and things aren't allowed off set. ... Usually, it's retained by the production company or studio."
But there was still some market for the memorabilia decades earlier, with MGM Studios auctioning off scores of movie props in the 1970s. When the auctions concluded, the fates of the pieces were up to their owners, meaning many props were unaccounted for years.
"In 1970, MGM had a big auction of their archives. So a lot of people bought stuff from that auction, like, Debbie Reynolds had a big auction of her collection," Hall said. "Things kind of got lost during that auction, or the person who was doing the auction retained some for himself. And then these are things that come to light after many, many years."
The Wizard of Oz dress was donated by actress Mercedes McCambridge to the university in 1973 in honor of her mentor, Father Gilbert Hartke, though it's unclear how she obtained it herself. Once Hartke retired, the dress became fodder for legends for decades until it was uncovered inside a trash bag in the drama department, the university's library wrote in a blog post.
Other pieces have been sold to private bidders and then stolen, such as the Aston Martin DB5 “gadget” car used in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger, which mysteriously vanished from a hangar at an airport in Boca Raton, Florida, in the late 1990s.
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Now, as set pieces are better kept and regulated by production companies, it has fallen to them to sell them off or store them — often for hefty sums. Audrey Hepburn's famous My Fair Lady Ascot dress sold for $4.5 million at an auction in 2011.
While the current market demands mean future films will likely have dedicated preservation efforts, many props from films' past will forever remain somewhere over the rainbow.