Decades ago, Oscar-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge gave one of Judy Garland’s dresses from The Wizard of Oz to a Catholic University. The actress had been an artist-in-residence in the university’s drama department when she donated the dress and hoped it would be a “source of hope, strength, and courage to the students.”
The precious gift was tucked away for safekeeping but eventually, no one could remember where it was stored. It became somewhat of a legend in the drama department building on Catholic’s Northeast Washington campus. People talked about it from time to time, wondering became of Dorothy’s Wizard of Oz dress, until the ancient wardrobe item became almost mythical.
In a stroke of good fortune, the Wizard of Oz dress was found by a lecturer in the drama department Matt Ripa. Speaking of his incredible find (via the Washington Post), Ripa said he knew what it was as soon as he popped the top off the box. When he saw that blue gingham, he just started laughing and laughing. This was due to the shock of holding a piece of Hollywood history right in his hands.
Entertainment curator at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History Ryan Lintelman, says there were five authenticated Dorothy dresses from The Wizard of Oz that are still in existence. The dress found at Catholic University makes six.
The farm girl’s blue gingham dress is a rare piece of Hollywood memorabilia that includes a hidden pocket for Dorothy’s handkerchief which was sewn into the right side of each dress. Judy Garland’s name and a wardrobe number are also discreetly penned on each outfit by what appears to have been the same person.
After examining the dress, Lintelman and his colleagues said it was definitely from The Wizard of Oz. The famous outfit will now be preserved in proper storage, in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment as part of the school’s special collections.
The find is a pretty big deal for the university because although The Smithsonian has a pair of Dorothy-worn ruby slippers, a film-used Scarecrow costume, a Technicolor camera from the set, and an original script – they don’t have a Wizard of Oz dress.
Released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz is a musical fantasy film produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It is the most commercially successful adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s fantasy novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Directed primarily by Victor Fleming, the film stars Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale alongside Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, and Margaret Hamilton.
Characterized by its use of technicolor, fantasy storytelling, musical score, and memorable characters, The Wizard of Oz has cemented its place in pop culture. It is often referred to as one of the greatest movies of all time.
The Wizard of Oz was loved by critics upon release in August 1939, but its lukewarm reception at the box office failed to make a profit for MGM Studios until it was re-released in 1949. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, but lost to Gone with the Wind. But it did win Best Original Song for Over the Rainbow and Best Original Score by Herbert Stothart.