An iconic blue and white gingham dress that made its way from the Culver City, Calif., set of “The Wizard of Oz” to a university in Washington D.C. won’t be auctioned off as planned, a judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan granted a motion for a preliminary injunction blocking the sale of Dorothy’s dress, which was worn by actress Judy Garland in the 1939 film. Barbara Ann Hartke – an 81-year-old who claims to be closest living relative of the dress’ last owner – requested the preliminary injunction.
According to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., the dress had been missing since the 1980s when it was discovered last summer by staff who were cleaning the Hartke Theater, named after Rev. Gilbert Hartke, a former head of the school’s drama department. Mercedes McCambridge, “a Hollywood actress and artist-in-residence,” at the university gave the dress to Hartke as a gift in 1973, said the institution.
Bonhams, the auction house that planned to sell the pinafore dress, said it is “one of only two existing dresses retaining the white blouse,” and is one of only four of Dorothy’s blue and white dresses from the film in existence.
Garland wore this specific dress while filming scenes of Dorothy facing the Wicked Witch of the West in the Witch’s Castle, said Bonhams.
Based on Frank L. Baum’s children's fantasy novel, “The Wizard of Oz,” was filed at MGM studios in 1939. Although it was not the first film made in color, “it was one of the first to prove that color could add fantasy and draw audiences to theaters,” said the Smithsonian Institution. It was also shown on television often between 1956 and 1974, making it the most-watched film of all time, according to The Library of Congress.
Bonhams said the Catholic University of America offered the dress to be featured in the “Bonhams Classic Hollywood: Film and Television” sale with an estimated value of $800,000 to $1.2 million. It was on view at Bonhams on Madison Avenue in New York last month and at Bonhams on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles this month. A final sale was scheduled Tuesday.
However, Barbara Ann Hartke said in her lawsuit that the dress belongs to her, not the university, since it was a “personal gift,” from McCambridge, NBC News reported. In a filing opposing her lawsuit, attorneys for the school argue that as a Dominican priest, her relative had taken a vow “to never accept gifts in his personal capacity” meaning the dress couldn’t be considered part of his estate.
“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,” said the university’s lawyers in a statement cited by NBC News. The outlet also reached out to Hartke’s lawyers.
Dorothy’s dress is not the only Hollywood-related garment to make headlines this month. When reality TV star Kim Kardashian arrived May 2 at the Met Gala in New York wearing the dress actress Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy, Jr., in 1962, it caused a stir. Its designer, Bob Mackie, even told Entertainment Weekly that “it was a big mistake,” for Kardashian to wear the fragile, 60-year-old dress.
Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, a for-profit museum, set a Guinness World Record for the most expensive dress when it purchased the Monroe dress from Julien’s auctions for $4.8 million in 2016. Kardashian borrowed the dress from the museum and lost 16 pounds to wear it on the red carpet for moments before changing into a replica.
Previously, the other Dorothy dress with blouse was sold by Bonhams in 2015 for $1.5 million. Bonham’s also sold the Cowardly Lion costume worn by actor Bert Lahr in the film – which was made with real lion hair, according to Vanity Fair – for $3 million in 2014.
A mismatched pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers (several pairs were made for the film) were donated to the National Museum of American History in 1979 and another pair was recovered in 2018. Together, they make two matching pairs.