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Wizard of Oz Dress Can't Be Auctioned by University Yet, Court Rules

Wizard of Oz Dress Can't Be Auctioned by University Yet, Court Rules

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz

Catholic University wants to auction the Dorothy costume gifted to a faculty member decades ago, but his niece says she is the rightful owner.

Judy Garland's iconic Wizard of Oz dress may not be in Kansas anymore, but its final home is still to be determined.

The Catholic University of America had planned to auction off the gingham dress Tuesday, but a federal judge Monday blocked the move, The Washington Post reports. U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe ruled that a lawsuit over ownership of the dress must be resolved first.

The dress is one of six that have been authenticated as worn by Garland in the LGBTQ-beloved 1939 film, although only one other is known to still exist. She wore it in the scene where her Oz character, Dorothy, is a prisoner of the Wicked Witch of the West.

The Rev. Gilbert V. Hartke, a priest who headed Catholic University's drama department, received the costume in 1973 as a gift from acclaimed actress Mercedes McCambridge, then an artist in residence at the university. McCambridge had been a friend of Garland, who died in 1969. McCambridge died in 2004.

Hartke died in 1986, and the dress was forgotten for years; he had not taken it with him when he retired. But last year, a university lecturer "found the classic film collector's item stashed above staff mailboxes," the Post notes. The university made plans to sell it through the Bonhams auction house in Los Angeles, with proceeds benefiting the drama department. It was expected to go for up to $1.2 million at the auction of Hollywood memorabilia; other items featured include a jacket worn by Leslie Howard in Gone With the Wind, a chair from Rick's Cafe in Casablanca, costume sketches from various movies, and scripts from hit TV shows.

However, Barbara Ann Hartke, a niece of Gilbert Hartke, sued this month to stop the sale. Her lawsuit, filed in federal court in New York City, contends the dress is an asset of her uncle's estate and that she is therefore its rightful owner. Catholic University officials argue that Gilbert Hartke did not claim ownership of anything of value because he had taken a vow of poverty, so the costume is the university's property.

Judge Gardephe wrote in his Monday ruling that he believes Hartke's case has enough merit to go forward and that he was prohibiting "any sale or transfer of the dress pending the outcome of this litigation."

Catholic University will continue to fight, an attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based school said in a written statement to the Post. "The Court's decision to preserve the status quo was preliminary and did not get to the merits of Barbara Hartke's claim to the dress," Shawn Brenhouse said. "We look forward to presenting our position, and the overwhelming evidence contradicting Ms. Hartke's claim, to the Court in the course of this litigation."

Anthony Scordo III, Barbara Ann Hartke's lawyer, told the paper it seemed that the judge took care in following the arguments of both sides. He had not yet spoken to his client, a retired teacher in Wisconsin.

Resolution of the case could take much longer than Dorothy's journey down the Yellow Brick Road. However, Gardephe has scheduled the next hearing in the matter for June 9, The New York Times reports.

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