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CUA’s “Dorothy dress” auction halted by pending lawsuit


Archives du 7eme Art | Photo12 | AFP

J-P Mauro - published on 05/06/22

The niece of Fr. Gilbert Hartke, who was given the dress in the 1970s, argues that it is not the property of CUA.

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A legal dispute has arisen over a dress worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, recently found in The Catholic University’s Hartke Theater. The lawsuit seeks to block the auction of the iconic blue-and-white gingham dress, which was planned for May 24, 2022. 

According to CNBC, the lawsuit was filed by Barbara Hartke, niece of Fr. Gilbert Hartke, who received the dress as a gift in the 1970s. The claim is that the dress was never the property of CUA, but rather a part of Fr. Hartke’s estate. Barbara, 81, argues that the dress was “specifically and publicly” given to Fr. Gilbert as a personal gift. 

The dress

Fr. Hartke received Dorothy’s dress from Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, a one-time artist-in-residence at the university. Although the dress had been on the grounds of CUA since the 70s, its whereabouts became unknown when Fr. Hartke died in 1986. It was only rediscovered in 2021, when Hartke Theater was cleared out in preparation for renovation work.

The dress in question is one of only four surviving costumes that were used in the production. Of the four, CUA’s is one of just two to retain the original white blouse. The other dress with a blouse sold for $1.5 million in 2015. CUA’s dress has been confirmed to have been used in the scene when Dorothy confronts the Wicked Witch in her castle.


It took CUA the better part of a year to decide to put the dress up for auction. Aleteia reported in April that the dress would be auctioned through Bonhams Fine Art Auctioneers, who believed the dress could earn between $800,000 and $1.2 million. The university planned to use the proceeds of the sale to endow a new faculty chair and help develop a film acting program. 

These plans will have to be put on hold while CUA contends with the lawsuit. According to Forbes, Barbara Hartke claims that CUA has no right to the dress, nor did they make any attempt to contact Hartke’s heirs after the dress was found. The injunction, filed against both CUA and Bonham’s, is expected to prevent the May 24 auction. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for CUA said that formal comments are forthcoming: 

“The University is reviewing the allegations made in the lawsuit at this time and will provide additional information after a thorough review of the complaint.”

Read more at Forbes.

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