Iconic Wizard Of Oz Costume Halted From Going To Auction

Well that was disappointing for someone.

By Vic Medina | Published

wizard of oz remake

An iconic dress worn by Judy Garland in the motion picture classic The Wizard of Oz isn’t in Kansas anymore – it’s in litigation. A U.S. district court judge has stopped an auction of the blue-and-white gingham dress, worn by Garland’s character of Dorothy Gale in the film, after another individual came forward claiming ownership of it. The dress was supposed to be auctioned off last week by London-based Bonhams, as part of their signature Classic Hollywood Auction being held in Los Angeles. The judge’s order remains in place until the exact ownership of the Wizard of Oz costume can be determined, according to a report by NME.com.

Bonhams was auctioning the Dorothy costume on behalf of Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., who had been in possession of the Wizard of Oz costume since the 1970s. The dress itself has a storied history, and was believed lost decades ago. It was rediscovered last year, and given to Bonhams for auction. Proceeds from the sale were due to benefit the Department of Drama at the University until the niece of the original recipient stepped forward to claim ownership.

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (1939)

In 1973, actress Mercedes McCambridge gifted the dress to Father Gilbert Hartke, a priest who worked at Catholic University. According to the auction listing by Bonhams, it is believed that McCambridge obtained the Wizard of Oz costume directly from MGM’s archives sometime in the 1960s when they were clearing out costumes. McCambridge won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1950 for her role in All The King’s Men. She was also nominated for an Oscar in 1957 for her role of Luz Benedict in Giant. McCambridge credited Father Hartke for helping her kick her addiction to alcohol, and according to Bonhams, gave him the dress as a gift to benefit the Drama Department at the University, which he founded. The motivation for the gift, however, is now being contested.

Father Hartke retired in 1986, and died later that year, but the dress remained at Catholic University under the possession of the Drama Department Chair. It suddenly went missing in the late 1980s, and despite multiple searches, it was never found and presumed lost. Last year, however, the Wizard of Oz costume was rediscovered in a shoebox by a professor clearing out his office during the pandemic. The university, now in the midst of renovating the school’s Hartke Theater, tasked Bonhams to auction it off to benefit the Drama Department. That is, however, until Hartke’s niece, 81-year-old Barbara Ann Hartke, 81, saw the news of the dress being auctioned off in the media. She filed a lawsuit, claiming her uncle owned the dress, not the University. She, in turn, now says the dress should pass to her.

Bonhams had listed that the Dorothy dress was expected to fetch somewhere between $800,000 to $1.2 million. Wizard of Oz costumes and memorabilia are incredibly rare, the dress in particular is instantly recognizable, giving it even more value. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe, however, has halted the auction until Hartke’s arguments are heard. Hartke’s niece claims the dress was a gift by Mercedes McCambridge to Father Hartke. The university claims that Father Hartke, as part of his vows to the church, swore off receiving any personal gifts. That means the dress would have automatically been under the university’s ownership. A hearing over claims to the dress has not been scheduled.