Drama Swirls Around Who Owns This Dorothy Dress

Catholic University was about to sell it, until a judge stepped in
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 24, 2022 12:30 PM CDT
Who Owns This Dorothy Dress? It's a Million-Dollar Question
The dress in question.   (Bonhams)

(Newser) – The story of one of Dorothy's dresses from the Wizard of Oz has nearly as many twists and turns as the film itself. The blue-and-white checked gingham dress—said to be one of only two that still have the underlying blouse with it—was found last year in a shoebox at the Catholic University of America, reports the AP. The school planned to auction the dress Tuesday, with auctioneer Bonhams estimating it could go for as much as $1.2 million, but that sale was blocked in court on Monday.

The backstory: Father Gilbert Hartke was given the dress in 1973; at the time he ran the school's drama department. His closest living relative, niece Barbara Ann Hartke, sued the school after learning about the sale, and a preliminary injunction blocking the sale was granted by a federal judge in Manhattan. She claims the dress was a gift to him from actress Mercedes McCambridge as her thanks to him for his efforts in helping her battle addiction, reports WTOP. Catholic University claims Hartke received the gift on behalf of the school, and that his vow of poverty meant he couldn't accept "gifts in his personal capacity."

The university last year wrote that it was still unclear how the dress ended up in McCambridge's possession, "though we do know she was a Hollywood contemporary of Judy Garland’s and that they were supposedly friends." A rep for the university said the plan had been to use the funds from the sale to endow a faculty position in its Rome School of Music, Drama and Art, "which it believes is in line with Mercedes McCambridge’s original intent"—she was an artist-in-residence at the university from 1972 to 1973—"and Father Gilbert Hartke’s desire to support and grow the University’s drama program." The next court date is set for June 9. (Read more The Wizard of Oz stories.)

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