The iconic blue and white gingham dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” was pulled from auction following legal and theological questions.
The dress, which had been lost for decades, was submitted in an auction of Hollywood memorabilia by the Catholic University of America.
Experts had estimated the costume would sell for $800,000 to $1.2 million at auction.
In 2021, the university announced the so-called Dorothy dress was found in a shoebox in the Hartke building. The building was named for Father Gilbert Hartke who served as the head of the CUA’s theater program for 37 years. Hartke had been gifted a number of articles of clothing by those who knew his interest in costumes — including the dress once worn by Garland in the 1939 movie.
“Our building is in the process of renovations and upgrades, so I was cleaning out my office to prepare,” said lecturer Matt Ripa in a statement from the school. “I have found many interesting things in the Hartke during my time at CUA, but I think this one takes the cake.”
The university also has photographs of Hartke holding the dress, which he received after Garland’s death in 1969.
“Actress Mercedes McCambridge, who also served as an artist-in-residence at the university, gave one of Garland’s on-screen dresses to the Catholic University in 1972. But approximately one year later, it disappeared,” per The New York Post.
The school had planned to keep it in its archives before entering it in Bonhams’ “Classic Hollywood: Film and Television” auction which was scheduled for May 24.
The dress was withdrawn from the auction after U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan granted a preliminary injunction to Barbara Ann Hartke the day before the auction. Ms. Hartke is the niece of Father Hartke, who died in 1986. She filed a lawsuit against the auctioneer and the Catholic University of America after learning the dress would be sold.
The 81-year-old contends that as the priest’s oldest living relative, she is the rightful owner of the dress. She and her legal team say the dress was a personal gift and is not the property of the university.
According to the lawsuit, CUA “has no ownership interest in the dress as … there is no documentation demonstrating decedent ever formally or informally donated the dress to Catholic University.”
Attorneys for CUA filed a motion opposing the lawsuit. They have argued that Hartke, a priest in the Dominican Order, would “never accept gifts in his personal capacity” as part of a vow of poverty. The school said that because of this religious practice, the dress could not have belonged to an estate.
While some members of the Hartke family support the lawsuit, others have submitted affidavits to the courts stating the late priest told them the costume was the property of CUA, reports the National Catholic Register.
“Garland wore several versions of the dress during the filming of the movie,” reports ABC News. “The one found at Catholic University was one of two that still had its accompanying blouse, and that Garland wore it in the scene in the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West.”
Bonhams sold another dress with the blouse for $1.5 million in 2015. The dress discovered at the university is reported to be fragile but in generally good condition.
CUA has said it will use the proceeds from the dress’s sale to start a film program within its drama department.
Gardephe rejected the university’s claim that the sale of the dress must be considered an urgent matter because potential buyers could lose interest, citing the prolonged popularity of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Both parties will return to court in Manhattan in June as the legal battle continues.