Catholic University barred from auctioning Judy Garland’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress worth up to $1.2m

The dress at issue is one of six authenticated by experts as having been worn in the famous 1939 film by Garland, who played Dorothy

Shayna Jacobs
Tuesday 24 May 2022 17:35
Comments
<p>A federal judge blocked Catholic University from auctioning off a gingham dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz”</p>

A federal judge blocked Catholic University from auctioning off a gingham dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz”

A federal judge blocked Catholic University from auctioning off a gingham dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz,” one day before it was set to be put up for bids that some expected to generate up to $1.2 million for the school’s drama department.

US District Judge Paul Gardephe ruled that a Wisconsin woman’s lawsuit claiming ownership of the dress had enough merit to proceed and that the garment could not change hands while the case is pending in federal court in Manhattan.

The ruling means any sale of the dress could be postponed by months or years. Judge Gardephe said that he was prohibiting “any sale or transfer of the dress pending the outcome of this litigation.”

The dress at issue is one of six authenticated by experts as having been worn in the famous 1939 film by Garland, who played Dorothy. It was worn in the scene when Dorothy was captured at the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle.

In 1973, the dress was given as a gift to the Rev. Gilbert V. Hartke, the longtime head of Catholic University’s drama department who died in 1986. On behalf of the school, the auction house Bonhams had been expected to auction the dress Tuesday in Los Angeles, along with a number of other Hollywood and television memorabilia, including a Leslie Howard jacket from “Gone With the Wind” and a chair from Rick’s Cafe in “Casablanca.”

But earlier this month, Hartke’s niece, Barbara Ann Hartke, sued to block the sale after learning about the plans to auction the dress from news reports, including on NBC’s “Today” show. The 81-year-old retired schoolteacher has said she was close to her late uncle, and that the dress has sentimental value.

Catholic University countered that the dress was gifted to the institution and that Gilbert Hartke’s vow of poverty as a Dominican priest means he didn’t intend to personally own anything of value.

Shawn Brenhouse, an attorney for Catholic University, said in a statement that the auction would “be postponed until the resolution of this case” but that the university would continue to fight for its ability to sell the dress and endow a faculty position in the drama school.

“The Court’s decision to preserve the status quo was preliminary and did not get to the merits of Barbara Hartke’s claim to the dress,” Brenhouse 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.”

The dress donation made headlines in the 1970s when it was given to Gilbert Hartke by Oscar-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, who was an artist-in-residence at the drama program. Hartke was a mentor to McCambridge, who had been a close friend of Garland’s.

Hartke did not take the keepsake with him when he retired decades ago, and the dress was in the possession of other staff members until it seemingly disappeared. Then, last year, lecturer Matt Ripa found the classic film collector’s item stashed above staff mailboxes.

Anthony Scordo III, Barbara Ann Hartke’s lawyer, said Monday he believed the judge paid close attention to written arguments in the case. Heading out of the courthouse, he said he had not yet spoken to his client to convey the development.

Scordo argued in court papers that Barbara Ann Hartke would be “irreparably harmed” if the auction were to go forward and that she could demonstrate that her uncle’s estate was the rightful owner of the property.

McCambridge “specifically and publicly” gifted the dress to Hartke “and said dress is therefore an asset of decedent’s estate,” Scordo argued in court filings. He noted that McCambridge and Hartke had a close relationship.

A spokesperson for Bonhams declined to comment.

Gardephe rejected Catholic University’s contention that Barbara Ann Hartke’s case was frivolous, that her arguments were made in bad faith and that her interest in establishing ownership of the dress was purely financial.

The judge also said the university’s claim that there was an urgent need to auction off the item to keep potential buyers from losing interest was unfounded. Gardephe noted that for more than 80 years, the public has been fascinated by the classic film and that the controversy over the dress’ ownership and the lawsuit have only generated more interest.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in