Catholic University claims to own the dress of Judy Garland, the Wizard of Oz

A lobby tab of the movie “The Wizard of Oz”, shows a video of a scene in which American actress Judy Garland (1922 – 1969) (as Dorothy) wipes the tears from the eyes of actor Bert Lahr (1895 – 1967) ) (as the Cowardly Lion), while watched by Jack Haley (1898 – 1979) (as the Tin Man) (left) and Ray Bolger (1904 – 1987) (as the Scarecrow), 1939. The film was directed by Victor Fleming.

Hulton Archives | Moviepix | Getty Images

The Catholic University of America will not give up Dorothy’s dress without a brawl in court.

The university insisted in a new statement to CNBC that – and not the legacy of a deceased priest and acting professor – is the “rightful owner” of a once-lost suit worn by Judy Garland in the classic film “The Magician. of Oz “. . “

The University of Washington, DC also stated that a new lawsuit filed by Reverend Gilbert Hartke’s niecewhich aims to block an upcoming auction of the blue and white checkered dress, “has no basis in law or in fact.”

Gilbert Hartke received the dress as a gift in 1973.

The school’s statement came just as an attorney for Hartke’s 81-year-old niece asked a New York City federal judge in a new court filing to issue a temporary injunction that would at least postpone the 24-year dress auction. May on behalf of the university. The dress is expected to go up to $ 1 million or more at an auction held at Bonham’s in Los Angeles.

Hartke, as a Roman Catholic priest and a member of the Dominican Order, “had taken a vow of poverty,” the school noted in the statement.

“He vowed that he would not receive or accept any gifts as his personal property and at the time of his death he had no tangible object in his property,” the Catholic University said.

“Indeed, an inventory of Father Hartke’s estate conducted in 1987 listed nothing of value in personal possessions or material possessions of any kind, despite other documented gifts to Father Hartke for the benefit of the Catholic University over the years.

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

In a court motion filed Friday calling for a temporary injunction to preclude the auction, attorney for Hartke’s niece Barbara Ann Hartke said the Wisconsin woman will suffer “irreparable injuries” if Bonham’s auction is cleared. to proceed before the resolution of its cause. claiming ownership of the dress from her uncle’s estate.

“Because the plaintiff’s property is in the defendant’s possession and will be sold to the highest bidder, the plaintiff will effectively lose the ability to claim ownership of his and, or the estate’s estate once the auction has taken place.” , Barbara Hartke’s attorney Anthony Scordo also argued in his filing with the United States District Court in Manhattan.

Scordo also wrote: “There is a strong public interest in the court to insert an injunction here.”

“This property is … important to the American public for the reasons that are articulated in the verified claim. The fact that a major portion of Americana will not be in the public realm and will be lost forever,” Scordo wrote.

The dress is one of only two known extant dresses of the many created for Garland to wear in 1939 “The Wizard of Oz”. The other dress was auctioned in 2015 by Bonham’s for over $ 1.5 million.

Judge Paul Gardephe has not yet ruled on the motion for a temporary injunction. Neither Bonham nor Scordo responded to requests for comment.

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CNBC revealed earlier this week that Barbara Hartke had sued the university and Bonham University after saying she only recently learned from press reports that the dress given to her uncle would soon be put on sale. auction after being lost for decades.

The dress was found last July in a garbage bag in the university’s acting department.

The Catholic University wants to sell the dress to raise funds for its acting school, founded by Gilbert Hartke.

The priest received the dress in 1973 from his friend, actress Mercedes McCambridge, who credited him with helping her cope with her alcoholism.

Around the time McCambridge gave him the dress, she was acting as the voice of the demon Pazuzu in the horror film “The Exorcist,” which was shot in Washington.

She previously won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1949 for her performance in “All the King’s Men” and was nominated in the same category for her role in “Giant,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock. Hudson.

Gilbert Hartke he himself was a prominent figure in the Washington theater that “he really was the man of the city,” at ease in the White House and DC’s power restaurants as he rubbed with the capital’s political and social elite, The Washington Post noted in his 1986 obituary when he died aged 79.

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

But despite his high profile, Hartke as a priest was bound by his vow of poverty, the Catholic University noted in its statement Friday stating that the school is the legal owner of the habit.

“The Catholic University understands the solemnity of these vows, as did McCambridge and Father Hartke at the time of the donation to the Catholic University”, reads the note. “Consistent with these vows, the dress was a gift to further Father Hartke’s important legacy of building the School of Drama here at the Catholic University.

“The University’s research of contemporary sources and evidence fully demonstrates McCambridge’s intention to donate the suit to support Catholic University drama students. The complaint provides 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 given to the Catholic University for the benefit of the students of the School of Rome. “.

Barbara Hartke’s attorney, Scordo, in her motion to block the auction, said delaying the planned sale of the dress until her lawsuit is resolved will not financially harm Catholic University or Bonham University.

“The placing of an injunction here is justified and will not place any undue burden on the defendants,” Scordo wrote.

“The defendants can not argue that the delay in the auction of the property will cause
any damage whatsoever, given the time elapsed since the death of the deceased. There is not
an indication that the fair market value will experience a real change in the event of an auction
postponed pending the resolution of this dispute “.

But Scordo said Barbara Hartke “will be the hurt party here if this auction is not merged.”