Judge halts auction of lost Dorothy dress from ‘The Wizard of Oz’


After decades of searching, the iconic blue-and-white checked gingham dress that Judy Garland wore in 1939 for her role as Dorothy in the movie “Wizard of Oz” was finally found and ready to be actioned off next month until a judge impeded its comes out.

It was donated to the Catholic University of America in 1973 by actor Mercedes McCambridge but it later went missing.

“Fast forward to COVID-19, and a retired professor was going through some boxes in his office. And lo and behold, there was the dress,” said Helen Hall, director of popular culture at auctioneers Bonhams in Los Angeles.

The auction house said film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) didn’t keep records about the movie’s costumes but five dresses have surfaced since the film was released in 1939. One was lost in a fire, leaving only four of the iconic blue and white gingham outfits.

Auctioneer Bonhams listed a presale estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million for the dress before it was withdrawn.

But United States District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan granted a motion for a preliminary injunction after a hearing in a lawsuit filed by a relative of Father Gilbert Hartke, who worked at the university and was given the dress in 1973.

Hartke died in 1986; his niece, Barbara Ann Hartke, 81, filed a lawsuit against the school and the auctioneer earlier this month after media accounts that the dress was going up for auction.

A blue and white checked gingham dress, worn by Judy Garland in the “Wizard of Oz,” hangs on display, at Bonhams in New York, US, April 25, 2022. (AP Photo)

In her lawsuit, she said that as her uncle’s closest living relative, the dress belongs to her. She says it was given to him as a personal gift by actor Mercedes McCambridge.

According to her lawsuit, the university “has no ownership interest in the dress as … there is no documentation demonstrating decedent ever formally or informally donated the dress to Catholic University.”

In a filing opposing the lawsuit’s request for the injunction, the school’s attorneys said that as a Dominican priest, Hartke had taken a vow “to never accept gifts in his personal capacity” and so the dress couldn’t be considered part of any estate.

Catholic University officials had said the dress went missing for decades after being given to Hartke, then head of the drama department.

Garland wore several versions of the dress during the filming of the movie; auctioneer Bonhams said the one found at Catholic University was one of two that still had its accompanying blouse, and that Garland wore it in the scene in the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Bonhams had no comment.

In a statement, lawyers for the university said, “We look forward to presenting our position, and the overwhelming evidence contradicting Ms. Hartke’s claim, to the court in the course of this litigation.”

An email seeking comment was sent to Hartke’s attorney.

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