Catholic University says it owns Judy Garland’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress

A lobby card from The Wizard of Oz shows a scene from the film showing American actress Judy Garland (1922–1969) (as Dorothy) wiping tears from the eyes of actor Bert Lahr (1895–1967) (as the Cowardly Lion). ) being watched by Jack Haley (1898-1979) (as the Tin Woodman) (left) and Ray Bolger (1904-1987) (as the Scarecrow), 1939. Film directed by Victor Fleming.

Halton Archive | Kinopiks | Getty Images

The Catholic University of America will not release Dorothy’s dress without a trial.

In a new statement to CNBC, the university insisted that it, and not the property of the late priest and drama professor, is the “rightful owner” of the long-lost dress worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz classic. .”

The University of Washington, DC also said that a new lawsuit filed by Rev. Gilbert Hartke’s niece to block an upcoming auction for a blue and white gingham dress has “no legal or factual basis.”

The dress was given to Gilbert Hartke in 1973.

The school’s announcement came just as a lawyer for Hartke’s 81-year-old niece asked a federal judge in New York in a new court document to issue a temporary injunction that would at least delay the May 24 dress auction on behalf of the university. . The dress is expected to sell for $1 million or more at Bonham’s in Los Angeles.

Hartke, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Dominican order, “has taken a vow of poverty,” the school said in a statement.

“He swore not to receive or accept any gifts as his personal property, and at the time of his death there were no material assets on his estate,” the Catholic University said in a statement.

“In fact, an inventory of Father Hartke’s property conducted in 1987 did not contain anything of value in personal property or any tangible property of any kind, despite other documented gifts to Father Hartke in favor of the Catholic University over the years.

“The Catholic University is the legal owner of the dress and Father Hartke’s estate has no property interest in it,” the school said.

In a court motion filed Friday seeking a temporary injunction against the auction, the lawyer for Hartke’s niece, Barbara Ann Hartke, said the Wisconsin woman would suffer “irreparable injury” if Bonham’s auction was allowed before her lawsuit was resolved. stating that the dress belonged to her uncle’s estate.

“Since the plaintiff’s assets are in the possession of the defendant and will be sold to the highest bidder, the plaintiff will effectively lose the opportunity to regain ownership of his property and property after the auction,” Barbara Hartke’s lawyer, Anthony Skordo, also said. argued in his lawsuit in the US District Court in Manhattan.

Skordo also wrote, “There is great public interest for the court to issue an injunction here.”

“This property … is important to the American public for reasons that are outlined in the confirmed complaint. The fact that an important part of Americana will not be in the public domain and will be lost forever,” Skordo wrote.

This dress is one of only two dresses known to still exist, of several designed for Garland in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Another dress was auctioned by Bonham’s in 2015 for over $1.5 million.

Judge Paul Gardef has not yet ruled on the motion for an interim injunction. Neither Bonham’s nor Scordo responded to requests for comment.

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Earlier this week, CNBC reported that Barbara Hartke was suing the university and Bonham’s after she said she only recently learned from press reports that a dress given to her uncle would soon be up for auction after it was lost for decades.

The dress was found last July in a trash bag at the university’s drama department.

The Catholic University wants to sell the dress to raise money for its theater school founded by Gilbert Hartke.

The dress was given to the priest in 1973 by his girlfriend, actress Mercedes McCambridge, who credited him with helping him fight alcoholism.

Around the time that McCambridge gave him the dress, she was voicing the demon Pazuzu in the horror film The Exorcist, which was filming in Washington DC.

She had previously won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1949 for All the King’s Men and was nominated in the same category for her performance in Giant, which starred Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson.

Gilbert Hartke was himself a prominent figure in the Washington theater who “behaved very well in the city”, felt comfortable in the White House and in high-end restaurants in the District of Columbia, interacting with the political and social elite of the capital, Washington Post noted in his 1986 obituary when he died at the age of 79.

Hartke was also one of two Catholic priests asked by President John F. Kennedy’s widow to stay with his body at the White House before his funeral following his assassination in 1963.

But despite his high status, Hartke was bound by his vow of poverty as a priest, the Catholic University said in a statement Friday, saying the school is the rightful owner of the dress.

“The Catholic University understands the importance of these vows, as did McCambridge and Father Hartke at the time of the donation to the Catholic University,” the statement said. “In keeping with these vows, the dress was a gift in support of Father Hartke’s important legacy of establishing the School of Drama here at the Catholic University.

“The university’s study of contemporary sources and evidence fully demonstrates McCambridge’s intention to donate the dress to support drama students at the Catholic University. The complaint contains no evidence to the contrary.”

The university said that when the dress was discovered last summer, “The Catholic University did not contact Father Hartke’s family because the dress was donated to the Catholic University for the benefit of the students of the School of Rome.”

Barbara Hartke Skordo’s attorney, in his motion to block the auction, argued that delaying the planned sale of the dress until her suit was resolved would not financially harm Catholic University or Bonham’s.

“The imposition of an injunction here is justified and does not place an undue burden on the defendants,” Skordo wrote.

“The Defendants cannot claim that the delay in the sale of the property will result in
any harm, taking into account the time elapsed since the death of the testator. There is no
an indication that the fair market value will undergo any real change if the auction is
adjourned pending resolution of this litigation.”

But Skordo said that Barbara Hartke “will suffer here if this auction is not scheduled.”

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