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Shortly after a Catholic University professor discovered a blue gingham dress worn by actress Judy Garland in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” the university decided to auction it off, for an estimated price of between $800,000 and $1.2 million. Proceeds would go to the school’s drama department, whose founder and longtime chairman, Reverend Gilbert V. Hartke, received the dress as a gift in 1973.

Garland, 16, wore several blue gingham dresses with white blouses while filming the film in 1938; a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History said last year there were six authenticated dresses, each with Garland’s name and a wardrobe number written on them. Experts later determined that the Catholic University dress was worn during the terrifying (to some) scene in which Dorothy is captured by the Wicked Witch of the West in the Witch’s Castle.

Judy Garland’s long-lost ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress returns to Catholic University

But after the dress went on display at a New York auction house last month, Barbara Ann Hartke emerged. An 81-year-old retired teacher from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, she is the niece of Gilbert Hartke, who died in 1986. She says the dress is hers, as Hartke’s closest living relative, and she has filed a federal lawsuit in New York. last week seeking to stop the auction and claim the dress.

Barbara Hartke could not be reached for comment on Friday. But she told the New York Post last week: “I was just surprised after all this time, here it was found, and here it’s being taken to the auction. I just want to know who owns it…J would like to see the documentation.

Lawyers for the university responded in a filing on Thursday that the robe was given to a Catholic, that Gilbert Hartke had no intention of claiming it for himself, and that his vow of poverty as a Dominican priest prohibited him. to accept gifts on a personal basis. The university said it was not served with the lawsuit or the request for an injunction over the auction, but that “witnesses, including a descendant of one of Father Hartke’s siblings, have come forward to confirm that the robe was never part of Father Hartke’s estate and was always owned by the University.

The dress is scheduled to be displayed in Los Angeles from May 20-24 by Bonhams, the auction house responsible for selling the item, and then sold on May 24. Bonhams will also be selling a suit worn by Steve McQueen that day. in “The Getaway” (estimated price between $10,000 and $15,000) and pants made for Marlon Brando in “The Young Lions” (estimated price between $800 and $1,200).

Bonhams is also named as a defendant in Hartke’s lawsuit. The company declined to comment on Friday.

The last time one of Garland’s gingham dresses from the film sold was in 2015, for $1.5 million.

The dress’s donation to Catholic in 1973 made news, in part because it was donated by Oscar-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge, who was then artist-in-residence in the school’s drama department. McCambridge had been close to Garland and both had endured drug and alcohol addictions. Garland died in 1969 at the age of 47.

In an article in the school newspaper, The Tower, McCambridge said Garland “often talked about college and ‘how everything could have been different’ if she had made it there.”

Legal deposits on both sides state that Gilbert Hartke was a renowned figure who mentored actors such as Jon Voight and Henry Gibson and helped counsel McCambridge with his substance abuse issues.

In Garland’s honor, McCambridge donated the Dorothy dress to Hartke and Catholic in hopes that it would be “a source of hope, strength and courage for students,” according to the Tower article. .

The dress eventually disappeared, apparently passed from Gilbert Hartke to Thomas Donahue, a now-retired drama teacher, who left it to lecturer Matt Ripa. It was hidden atop a row of college mailboxes, and Ripa discovered it last year.

Barbara Hartke’s lawsuit focuses on the personal relationship her uncle had with McCambridge and says the dress was a gift “to thank Hartke for his guidance and support”. Hartke maintains that there is no documentation indicating that the dress was ever officially or unofficially donated to the university, and that Catholic made no effort to contact her before putting it up for sale.

Barbara Hartke’s attorney, Anthony Scordo III, did not respond to a request for comment. Hartke told the New York Post: ‘I have met Mercedes McCambridge a few times and my recollection is mostly of her fondness for Uncle Gib. He helped her fight against alcoholism. … It was the idea, that it was offered to Gib out of his deep appreciation.

Catholic’s lawyers, Amin Al-Sarraf and Shawn Brenhouse, noted in a letter to federal court in New York that the university “has an irrefutable presumption of ownership by possession of the robe for nearly 50 years,” as well as the apparent absence of any right to personal property or real estate by Gilbert Hartke at the time of his death. They note that Hartke never took the dress home, even after he retired in 1974.

“The University’s research into contemporary sources and evidence,” Al-Sarraf and Brenhouse said in a statement Friday, “fully demonstrates Ms. McCambridge’s intention to donate the dress in support of drama students. of the Catholic University.The Complaint provides no evidence to the contrary… Hartke’s estate has no ownership interest in this.

After the dress was discovered, Catholic said it would keep it in its special collections. But later the school decided to sell it.

“While parting with this dress is bittersweet, the proceeds will help support the training of future generations for professional careers in theatre,” said Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw, dean of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama and Art at Catholic. statement released by Bonhams. “Maybe it’s just that the funding helps prepare the next Mercedes McCambridge or Judy Garland!”

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