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Lawsuit Filed to Block “Wizard of Oz” Dorothy Dress from Auction

Looks like things in Oz just got a bit more complicated. It’s almost fitting that a movie steeped in its own legend and issues would have one of its most famous pieces of clothing also surrounded by storied twists and turns. Only a couple of weeks ago, we reported that one of the only remaining complete dresses Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz” was found in a shoebox, and was headed for auction. Now, there’s a lawsuit seeking to stop the auction from happening.

In case you didn’t read the previous article, here’s a quick recap to catch you up to what’s going on now. In 2021, a renovation was taking place in the Catholic University of America. In the closet of one of the offices was a shoebox that contained the dress and blouse, famously worn by the character of Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz.” The dress, long considered a “myth” of sorts by the university, was gifted to Reverend Gilbert Hartke in the early 1970s by actress Mercedes McCambridge.

The lost Dorthy Dress from “The Wizard of Oz” is hitting the auction block at Bonhams in May 2022.
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Here’s where the complication comes into play. The Catholic University of America claims the reverend had taken a vow of poverty, and did not claims any gifts or property as his own. Anything he accepted would have been on behalf of the University itself, including the dress.

This explanation does not sit well with the late Reverend’s niece, Barbara Hartke, who states the dress was specifically given to Reverend Hartke himself, and should therefore have been part of his estate. Therefore, after his passing in 1986, the dress should have been included in the handling of his estate, and the University never should have taken ownership of it.

Obviously with the Reverend having passed away, there’s no way to find out from him what was intended. At of the time of this writing, there doesn’t seem to be any written documentation stating his intentions for the dress. The lawsuit was filed in the Manhattan federal court and is seeking an injunction to stop the auction from happening. Given the potential value of the dress, estimated at anywhere from $800,000 to $1.2 million, it’s easy to see why both parties would want to have ownership of the costume.

We’ll let you know what we hear about this and other news. If it goes forward, expect to see Dorthy’s dress included in Bonhams Classic Hollywood: Film and Television auction on May 24th, 2022 in Los Angeles.

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