A federal judge on Monday stopped Catholic University from auctioning off a memorable white and blue dress worn by Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ after a Wisconsin woman filed a lawsuit claiming she was the rightful owner of the gingham chasuble garment worn by Dorothée.
Judge Paul G. Gardephe of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan granted a preliminary injunction a day before the dress was scheduled to go to auction in Los Angeles, where it was expected to sell for more than $1 million. The Catholic University had planned to use the money to staff a new professorship at the School of Music, Drama and Art in Rome.
Judge Gardephe ruled that the dress could not be sold by the Catholic University until the lawsuit was resolved. The two sides are due to meet in court on June 9.
In her lawsuit, filed earlier this month, Barbara Ann Hartke claims the dress belonged to the estate of her uncle, the Reverend Gilbert Hartke, who was once chairman of the university’s drama department and was awarded the dress as a gift in 1973 from the Academy. Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, who was also artist-in-residence at the university.
Ms McCambridge had ‘specifically and publicly’ given the dress to Mr Hartke as a token of gratitude for ‘helping her deal with alcohol abuse’, the lawsuit says.
Mr Hartke died in 1986 and Mrs Hartke says she is his closest living heiress.
The lawsuit says Ms McCambridge was a ‘close confidante’ of Ms Garland, but it’s unclear exactly how she got the dress.
The university maintained that the dress was a gift from Mr. Hartke and that he wanted it to be kept at the institution.
Shawn Brenhouse, a lawyer for Catholic University, said in a statement late Monday that the judge’s decision “was preliminary and did not address the merits of Barbara Hartke’s dress claim.”
“We look forward to presenting our position, and the overwhelming evidence contradicting Ms. Hartke’s assertion, to the court in this litigation,” Mr. Brenhouse said.
Anthony Scordo III, a lawyer for Ms Hartke, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Monday evening.
The flimsy dress has become a legend since Mrs. Garland wore it in the Technicolor classic in 1939, completing the checkered look with ruby red slippers sought after by the Wicked Witch. Ms. Garland wore several versions of the dress, but only one other is known to still exist. It was sold in 2012 by Julien’s Auctions for $480,000. In 2015, it again sold for nearly $1.6 million.
The location of the second dress was a mystery until it was found by chance last year in a shoebox, inside a bag, sitting on top of college mailboxes. Matt Ripa, a lecturer and operations manager at the drama school, found the bag while clearing the area in preparation for the Hartke Theater renovation.
the Smithsonian National Museum of American History helped authenticate the dress, which features a fitted bodice, high-necked blouse and full skirt, with a fabric tag inside inscribed “Judy Garland 4223”.
Ms Hartke claims in her lawsuit that her family was never informed of the discovery by the university. They knew a dress existed and were surprised to read headlines about preparations for its auction “without any compensation to its rightful owners,” the lawsuit says.
“There is no documentation showing that ‘Mr. Hartke ever donated the gown to Catholic University,’ the lawsuit says.