Judge Grants Injunction Against Sale of ‘Wizard of Oz’ Dress

May 27, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
Judge Grants Injunction Against Sale of ‘Wizard of Oz’ Dress
A blue-and-white checked gingham dress, worn by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz," hangs on display, Monday, April 25, 2022, at Bonhams in New York. (AP Photo/Katie Vasquez)

WASHINGTON — An auction scheduled for last Tuesday of a dress worn by actress Judy Garland in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz” is on hold until a federal judge can determine who owns it.

Catholic University in Washington, D.C., claims it was given to a faculty member in 1973. The university estimates its value between $800,000 and $1.2 million at auction.

The faculty member’s niece claims the blue-and-white gingham dress belongs to her as an heir of the now-deceased Catholic priest who headed the university’s drama department.

U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe issued an order prohibiting “any sale or transfer of the dress pending the outcome of this litigation.”

Garland wore the dress while playing Dorothy in a scene where she was being held captive in the Wicked Witch of the West’s castle.

It was given to Dominican priest Gilbert Hartke by Mercedes McCambridge, an Oscar-winning actress and artist-in-residence at Catholic University in 1973. McCambridge was a friend of Garland.

Hartke died in 1986 without telling anyone its whereabouts.

Late last year, it was discovered during a university theater renovation in a box above staff mailboxes. Experts authenticated the dress as one of six Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz” and one of only two with the original white blouse.

University officials wanted to sell it during a Hollywood memorabilia auction in Los Angeles, California, on May 24 to fund the school’s new film acting program.

On May 3, Barbara Ann Hartke, the 81-year-old niece of the priest, sued to block the sale after learning from television reports about the planned auction by Bonhams & Butterfields Auctioneers Corp. 

She claimed in her lawsuit that the dress has sentimental value as a reminder of her uncle. She is his closest living heir.

“The property in question is clearly unique and injury suffered to the estate is not measurable in monetary damages,” Hartke’s lawsuit says.

Attorneys for the university argued before the federal judge in New York that the dress was intended as a gift to Catholic University. They also said Barbara Hartke’s only interest in the dress appeared to be financial.

The judge rejected the university’s contention that Barbara Hartke’s claim was frivolous before issuing his one-page order granting a preliminary injunction against sale of the dress.

The case is Barbara Ann Hartke v. Bonhams & Butterfields Auctioneers Corp. et al., number 1:22-cv-03571, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Tom can be reached at [email protected] and @TomRamstack

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