Judge blocks auction of ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress by Catholic University

Judge blocks auction of ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress by Catholic University

A blue and white checked gingham dress, worn by Judy Garland in the “Wizard of Oz,” hangs on display, Monday, April 25, 2022, at Bonhams in New York.

Katie Vasquez | AP

A federal judge in New York blocked Tuesday’s scheduled auction of a dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” that had been expected to fetch up to $1 million or more for The Catholic University of America.

Monday’s injunction barring a sale of the dress by Bonhams auction house in Los Angeles came more than two weeks after a Wisconsin woman, Barbara Hartke, sued to stop the sale, claiming it belonged to the estate of her late uncle, the Rev. Gilbert Hartke. The lawsuit will proceed in Manhattan federal court.

Judge Paul Gardephe ordered Catholic University, which is located in Washington, D.C., and Bonhams not to sell the dress until the lawsuit is resolved.

Anthony Scordo, the attorney for Barbara Hartke, in an email to CNBC said, “I am pleased with the ruling preventing the sale. I feel the judge carefully reviewed the submissions of all parties and came to a fair result.”

In its statement, Catholic University said, “The Court’s decision to preserve the status quo was preliminary and did not get to the merits of Barbara Hartke’s claim to the dress. 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.”

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Hartke received the “Oz” dress in 1973 as a gift from Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge while serving as head of Catholic University’s drama school, which he founded. It is not known how MacCambridge obtained the costume from the classic 1939 film.

As an heir to the priest, Barbara Hartke stands to inherit a fraction of the ownership to the dress if she prevails in her lawsuit to prove that it belongs to her late uncle’s estate.

The dress had been missing for decades before it was found in a trash bag in a room at the drama school last year. Catholic University then moved to put it up for auction, generating widespread media coverage last month.

The university argues that it is the legal owner of the dress, because Hartke, as a Roman Catholic priest, had taken a vow of poverty and that the dress was intended to benefit the school.

The school also submitted affidavits from a grandnephew of Hartke who remembered that “my grand uncle Father Gilbert Hartke said to me that I could not have it as the dress belonged to Catholic University.”

That man, Thomas Kuipers, with a cousin said that they and other descendants of the priest supported the auction of the dress with the understanding that it was given as a gift for the school.

In its statement, Catholic University said that “it continues to be committed to its plan to use proceeds from a sale of the dress to endow a faculty position in the Rome School of Music, Drama and Art, which it believes is in line with Mercedes McCambridge’s original intent and Father Gilbert Hartke’s desire to support and grow the University’s drama program.”

The dress is one of only two dresses known to still exist of the several created for Garland to wear in “The Wizard of Oz.”

The other dress was auctioned in 2015 by Bonhams for more than $1.5 million.