Famous ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress to be auctioned for Catholic University

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Wizard of Oz dress
The dress was a gift to the head of the CUA Drama Department, Father Gilbert Hartke, from actress Mercedes McCambridge in 1973. (Archive Photo/The Catholic University of America)

The Catholic University of America is set to auction the legendary blue gingham checkered dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz.” The auction, now greenlit after a recent court ruling, will raise funds for the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art at the University.

The dress, a piece of Hollywood history, was donated to the University by actress Mercedes McCambridge, a former artist-in-residence at the University in 1973. The announcement of the partnership with international auctioneer Bonhams to display and auction the dress was made in April 2022. However, the auction faced a legal hurdle due to a lawsuit filed by Barbara Ann Hartke, niece of Father Gilbert Hartke, who claimed ownership of the dress. This claim was recently dismissed by a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, citing Father Hartke’s vow of poverty as a Dominican priest and Barbara Hartke’s lack of standing to bring a claim on behalf of the settled Estate of Father Hartke.

Catholic University/Patrick G. Ryan.

Jacqueline J. Leary-Warsaw, dean of the Rome School, expressed her satisfaction with the ruling. “Just like in the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ we have encountered some obstacles to reach this destination, but in the end, it will be worth it — benefiting our students and our program,” she said in a statement.

A rare dress

The Catholic University dress is notably rare, being one of only two existing dresses with the original white blouse and one of only four blue and white pinafore dresses known to exist. It has been matched to a specific scene in the movie when Dorothy faces the Wicked Witch of the West in her castle, adding to its value.

Bonhams, the international auctioneer handling the sale, estimates the value of the dress at $800,000 to $1.2 million. A different Dorothy dress, complete with blouse, sold for 1.5 million in 2015.

The proceeds from the auction will be used to endow a faculty chair, supporting the University’s bachelor of fine arts degree in acting for theater, film, and television and aiding in the development of a new formal film acting program. This auction represents not only a remarkable opportunity to own a piece of cinematic history but also a chance to support the arts and drama students at Catholic University, continuing the legacy of Father Hartke and the intentions of Mercedes McCambridge.

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