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Catholic University to auction “Dorothy dress” after lawsuit


Warner Home Video

J-P Mauro - published on 01/27/24

The iconic blue-and-white gingham dress was lost for 50 years and fought over in court for another two, but now it is ready to be sold to the highest bidder.

The Catholic University of America will soon be able to auction off an ultra rare, authentic dress worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz, after a legal battle that took nearly two years. 

WTOP News reports that a federal judge in New York has lifted an injunction that prevented the auction of the iconic blue-and-white gingham dress, one of just four extant dresses worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 film. Now free to auction the dress, CUA plans to do so with the auctioneer Bonhams, where it is expected to draw in as much as $1.2 million.

Aleteia previously reported that the Dorothy dress was gifted to Rev. Gilbert Hartke, founder of CUA’s drama school, by the actress Mercedes McCambridge and was promptly lost. The dress was discovered by chance after having been lost in Hartke Theater for nearly 50 years, after being left in a plastic bag and pushed off to the side in the faculty office. 

The legal dispute began when Rev. Hartke’s niece, Barbara Hartke, caught wind of the discovery. Barbara argued in court that the gift was a part of Rev. Gilbert’s estate and that the school had no right to it. In 2022, a judge placed an injunction on the sale of the dress until the matter was settled. In December 2023, Barbara was ordered to provide proof that she had authority to speak on behalf of Rev. Gilbert’s estate, but she was unable to do so.

CUA was even able to lean on Rev. Hartke’s religious vows in their arguments, since he had taken a vow of poverty as a Dominican priest. The school wrote: 

“Catholic University understands the solemnity of these vows, as did McCambridge and Fr. Hartke at the time of the donation to Catholic University,” the statement said. “Consistent with these vows, the dress was a gift to further Fr. Hartke’s important legacy of building the School of Drama here at Catholic University.”

Now, the case has been dismissed and the injunction has been lifted, freeing CUA to auction the dress. Bonhams has yet to announce a date for the auction. 

Read more at Aleteia.

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