Judge prevents auction of long-lost iconic ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress worn by Judy Garland

May 28, 2022
The iconic blue and white gingham dress worn by Judy Garland in the 'Wizard of Oz' faces ownership lawsuit. Source: Instagram @sport_and_star_basildon

After being considered lost for nearly four decades before its re-discovery last year, Judy Garland’s 1939 Wizard of Oz gingham pinafore dress was set to go to action on Tuesday, May 24, until a judge blocked the planned sale over an ownership dispute.

The iconic blue-and-white dress was initially put up for sale by Catholic University of America after the school had rediscovered it inside a shoebox during preparations for renovation.

Judy Garland’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress, arguably one of the most iconic outfits in American movie history, was discovered in a box after decades of being thought lost. Source: Instagram @bonhamspopularculture

International auctioneers Bonhams, who had planned to put the dress up for auction in Los Angeles as part of their Bonham Classic Hollywood: Film And Television sale, had estimated the dress to cost about A$1.1M (US$800,000) to A$1.6M (US$1.2M) before it was withdrawn from sale by U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe on Monday, May 23.

Gardephe granted a preliminary injunction for the dress after the niece of the late Farther Gilbert Hartke, who worked at the university and was given the dress in 1973, filed a lawsuit claiming she was the rightful owner of the dress.

Father Hartke’s niece, 81-year-old Barbara Anne Hartke, filed her lawsuit months after it was publicised that the dress was going up for auction.

The memorable costume was personally gifted to Father Gilbert Hartke by actress Mercedes McCambridge. Source: Instagram @bonhamspopularculture

In her lawsuit, Hartke claims she is the closest living relative to the deceased priest and alleges 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”.

But Catholic University, who had initially planned on using the auction proceeds to fund their drama department, won’t give up the dress without a court fight.

In a statement to NBC News 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.”

The university also insists that they are the “rightful owner” of the long-lost dress, arguing that the late Dominican priest had “had taken a vow of poverty,” meaning the dress couldn’t be considered part of his estate.

“He vowed not to receive or accept any gifts as his own personal property, and at the time of his death did not have any tangible items in his estate,” Catholic University said.

“In fact, an inventory of Father Hartke’s estate conducted in 1987 listed nothing of value in personal possessions or any tangible property of any sort, despite other documented gifts to Father Hartke for the benefit of Catholic University over the years.”

They also claim that the lawsuit filed by Father Hartke’s niece “has no basis in law or fact”.

Bonhams said the dress 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. Source: Getty

Hartke’s lawyer, Anthony Scordo, has also argued that she would face”irreparable injury” if Bonham proceeded with its auction of the dress before a resolution of her suit came to be.

“Because plaintiff’s asset is in Defendant’s possession and will be sold to the highest bidding party, plaintiff will effectively lose the ability to reclaim possession of hers and, or the estate’s property once the auction takes place,” Scordo said.

The long-lost dress is one of two dresses known to still exist of the numerous created for Garland to wear in 1939.

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