A Judge Halts the Auction of the Blue Gingham Dress Judy Garland Wore in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Until Its True Owner Is Determined
The dress was expected to fetch $800,000 to $1.2 million.
The blue-and-white gingham pinafore that Judy Garland wore as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz was poised to make history today when it hit the auction block at Bonhams Los Angeles with an estimated price of $800,000 and $1.2 million. But a judge halted the sale before it ever happened.
Catholic University in Washington, D.C., had consigned the dress as part of the auction house’s “Classic Hollywood: Film and Television” sale in the hope of raising money to establish a new film acting program.
But the dress belonged to Catholic priest Gilbert Hartke, the founder of the university’s drama department. His niece Barbara Ann Hartke, 81, filed a lawsuit earlier this month seeking to stop the auction. As his closest living relative, Barbara Hartke claims the dress belongs to her, not the university, and that it has no right to sell.
Judge Paul Gardephe, of the District Court for the Southern District of New York, granted her a preliminary injunction blocking the dress’s sale, as well as that of a cream-colored organdy blouse also worn by Garland in the film.
The court has not yet evaluated Barbara Hartke’s claim to the dress. “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,” Catholic University’s lawyer, Shawn Brenhouse, told Artnet News in an email.
Bonhams declined to comment on the legal dispute.
A newspaper documented the dress being given to Gilbert Hartke from Mercedes McCambridge, a former artist in residence at the drama school and a close friend of Garland’s. McCambridge may have purchased it at an inventory clearance sale at the MGM costume archives.
Barbara Harkte’s lawsuit claims that because McCambridge “specifically and publicly” gave the dress to her uncle, it is “an asset of the decedent’s estate.”
In its defense, Catholic has submitted affidavits from two other grandnieces and grandnephews of Hartke who say the priest wanted the college to have the garment. “I remember my granduncle Father Gilbert Hartke said to me that I could not have it, as the dress belonged to Catholic University,” Thomas Kuipers wrote in court filings.
But there is “absolutely no legal documentation of such a gift to the university,” Barbara Hartke’s lawyer, Anthony Scordo, told Wtop News. (Scordo did not respond to inquiries from Artnet News.)
The university argues that because Hartke was a Dominican priest, he took a vow of poverty, which means he kept no personal property. A 1979 Washington Star article profiling the “showbiz priest” cited in the suit notes that all gifts to the priest become the monastery, university, or drama school’s property, “which includes Judy Garland’s dress in The Wizard of Oz.”
Five of the pinafores worn by Garland in the film have survived but only two have the matching blouse. The other complete set fetched $480,000 at Julien’s Auctions in 2012, and $1.6 million at Bonhams in 2015. (Bonhams also sold Bert Lahr’s original Cowardly Lion costume for over $3 million in 2014.)
The Catholic University dress is the one Garland wore in the scene where Dorothy faces off with the Wicked Witch in her castle, according to Bonhams. It has a fitted bodice and a full skirt, with a handwritten “JUDY GARLAND 4223” label sewn inside the dress. The delicate blouse, which the film’s seamstress complained of having to repair daily, has a tear in the sleeve.
After Hartke’s death, in 1986, the dress fell through the cracks at the university. Some drama department employees may have known where it was, but most spoke of it more as a legend. Its exact whereabouts were forgotten until July 2021, when Matt Ripa, the operations coordinator, stumbled upon it in a bag sitting atop the faculty mailboxes, with a note from the retired department chair saying he had found it in his office.
“I was curious what was inside and opened the bag. Inside was a shoebox, and inside the shoebox was the dress! I couldn’t believe it,” Ripa said in a statement at the time. “My co-worker and I quickly grabbed some gloves and looked at the dress and took some pictures before putting it back in the box and heading over to the [university] archives.”
“These costumes are exceptionally rare and the collecting community thought that all extant dresses had been accounted for,” Helen Hall, director of popular culture at Bonhams in Los Angeles, told the New York Times. “For one to surface over 80 years after the release of the film is incredible.”
Should the sale eventually go through, Catholic also hopes to endow a faculty chair position in Hartke’s name.
“While parting with this dress is bittersweet,” Jacqueline J. Leary-Warsaw, dean of the university’s school of music, drama, and art, said in a statement, “the proceeds are going to help support future generations training for professional careers in theater.”
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