The item of clothing is one of several blue gingham dresses worn by Dorothy, the character of Garland, in the classic 1939 film. According to court documents, actor Mercedes McCambridge gifted it to the Reverend Gilbert Hartke, founder of the department of Speech and Drama from the Catholic University of America in the early 1970s.
Believed to be lost after the priest’s death in 1986, the dress was found in a shoebox by a university professor last summer. The school then offered it for sale through auction house Bonhams, which had estimated bids at between $800,000 and $1.2 million.
But the Reverend’s niece, Barbara Hartke, has since claimed the suit was part of her uncle’s estate, to which she is the rightful heir. In a lawsuit filed in a New York court earlier this month, she argued that McCambridge gave the dress to her uncle to thank him for “helping her deal with alcoholism and drug addiction”, and that there was no evidence that he had given it to school.
A blue and white checkered gingham dress worn by Judy Garland in the “Wizard of Oz” is on display Monday, April 25, 2022, at Bonhams in New York. Credit: Katie Vasquez/AP
Catholic University, meanwhile, says McCambridge expected his donation to benefit his students. In court documents, the college also argued that by becoming a priest of the A Dominican Order of the Roman Catholic Church, the Reverend had sworn never to possess “temporal goods” – and so the garment could not be considered part of his estate.
Hartke’s attorney, Anthony Scordo, said via email that the university “doesn’t know exactly what the vow was about” and that the late priest “always accepted and (had) personal gifts.”
On Monday, Manhattan District Judge Paul Gardephe granted an injunction ending the sale.
In a statement provided to CNN, the university stressed that the decision was “preliminary” and that there was “overwhelming evidence” contradicting Hartke’s claim of ownership.
“The Catholic University continues to commit to its plan to use the proceeds from the sale of the robe to staff a professorship at the School of Music, Drama and Art in Rome, which, according to it, is consistent with Mercedes McCambridge’s original intent and Father Gilbert Hartke’s desire to support and develop the University’s drama program,” the statement read.
Bonhams declined CNN’s request for comment.