Judy Garland’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress auction under threat, court hearing scheduled

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

A scheduled auction of a long-lost dress worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz is in jeopardy after a federal judge on Monday scheduled a hearing on why he shouldn’t block the sale pending the outcome of a title lawsuit.

A hearing in US District Court in Manhattan has been scheduled for May 23, the day before Bonham auction house is currently due to auction the dress on behalf of the Catholic University of America.

Judge Paul Gardef’s court order was issued after an attorney for Wisconsin resident Barbara Hartke asked him to withhold the sale of the dress until a decision was made on the lawsuit.

Hartke, 81, alleges in her lawsuit that the dress is the legal property of her late uncle, the Reverend Gilbert Hartke, who founded the Catholic University drama school.

Barbara Hartke, as an heiress, could be one of those who inherit the dress if she wins the lawsuit.

The white and blue checkered dress Judy Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz is on display Monday, April 25, 2022 at Bonhams in New York.

Cathy Vasquez | AP

But the University of Washington, DC, said he was the “legal owner” of a dress given to Hartke in 1973 by Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge.

The university said Gilbert Harkte’s vow of poverty as a Roman Catholic priest forbade him from accepting gifts as personal property.

“Father Hartke’s estate has no property interest,” the school said in a May 6 statement.

The white and blue gingham dress is one of two of the six dresses believed to have been made for Garland in the classic Oz movie. Bonham’s estimates the dress could sell for between $800,000 and $1.2 million.

Another dress was auctioned by Bonham’s in 2015 for over $1.5 million.

Gilbert Hartke’s ownership of the dress was well known at Catholic University after McCambridge gave it to him as a token of appreciation for his help with her alcoholism.

But the dress went missing for decades, until last June it was found in a trash bag over teachers’ mailboxes during renovations to Hartke’s school theater.

A Catholic University spokeswoman on Monday forwarded a CNBC request for comment on a temporary injunction blocking the sale to lawyers for the school, who did not immediately respond to emails.

Barbara Hartke’s attorney and Bonham’s attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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