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Dispute over $1.5 million Wizard of Oz dress found in storage closet

She’s not thrilled with this Hollywood memorabilia auction.

A Wisconsin woman has gone to court to stop the sale of a long-lost piece of movie history: the blue-and-white plaid dungaree dress worn by Judy Garland in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – which could be worth $1.5 million .

The iconic costume, one of five versions of the dress Garland’s Dorothy wore in the 1939 classic, is being auctioned off May 24 by Bonhams in Los Angeles at the behest of the Catholic University of Washington DC, where it was discovered in a shoebox last year in a storage closet.

“I was just surprised after all this time, this is where it was found and this is where it’s quickly taken to the auction house,” Barbara Hartke, 81, told the Post.

“I just want to know who owns this… I’d love to see the documentary,” she added.

The costume, complete with a short-sleeved cream organdy blouse and Garland’s name on a tag on the inside, was a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge to Hartke’s uncle, the Rev. Gilbert Hartke, a famous man in his own right who was a priest and professor who headed the drama department the university, the family is fighting a $3 million lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan. It’s unclear how McCambridge came into possession of the dress.

Barbara Ann Hartke claims in a court case that the dress belonged to the estate of her uncle, Rev. Gilbert V. Hartke, who died in 1986.
Barbara Ann Hartke claims in a court case that the dress belonged to the estate of her uncle, Rev. Gilbert V. Hartke, who died in 1986.
Eli Branson/@elifromchi

“I’ve met Mercedes McCambridge a few times and my memory is mostly of her fondness for Uncle Gib,” recalled Hartke. “He helped her fight alcoholism. … That was the idea that this Gib was given by her out of deep appreciation.”

Oscar-winner McCambridge, a Garland contemporary who is perhaps best known in modern times for voicing the demon who possessed Linda Blair’s character in The Exorcist, was artist-in-residence at the university from 1972-73.

The “Wizard of Oz” dress, one of only two complete versions of the costume known to still exist, is being offered with a pre-auction estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. Another of the surviving Dorothy dresses cost more than $1.5 million in 2015.

The dress, complete with a short-sleeved cream organza blouse and Garland's name on a tag on the inside, was a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge to Hartke's uncle, Rev. Gilbert Hartke.
The dress, complete with a short-sleeved cream organza blouse and Garland’s name on a tag on the inside, was a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge to Hartke’s uncle, Rev. Gilbert Hartke.
ABOUT REUTERS; Courtesy of Bonhams

“There was no effort to reach us or the family. It was like it was there, it was found in that box and then it goes straight to the races and that’s it. Was anything else found?” wondered Hartke, a retired public school teacher in Chicago.

Father Hartke, the youngest of seven children growing up in north Chicago, died of a heart condition in 1986 at the age of 79. He was a well-known personality in Washington DC, advising presidents from Harry Truman to Jimmy Carter and mentoring future theater critic Walter Kerr and actors such as Jon Voight and Henry Gibson.

It’s been a whirlwind few days for Hartke’s remaining family, who learned of the clothes auction through news, said grandnephew Tony Lehman.

“We’re just concentrating on ‘What property?’ right now,” said Lehman, 60.

The Catholic university “just ignored the family here,” said attorney Anthony Scordo.

The college insisted to The Post that it was “the rightful owner of the dress”. … Actress Mercedes McCambridge donated the dress to Fr. Hartke in his capacity as professor of drama at Catholic University.”

your intention [was] to donate the dress to support drama students at the Catholic University. … It was decided to auction the dress to support the students.”

The university added that Father Hartke, as a priest of the Dominican Order, “took a vow of poverty. He vowed not to accept or accept any gifts as his personal property and had no material items in his estate at the time of his death.”

Barbara Hartke says there’s no reason to rush the sale.

“It won’t evaporate,” she said of the dress. “I think it’s reasonable to decide, ‘What is the message that we want here? What is the tribute to Uncle Gib? To his kindness and also to Mercedes McCambridge and the good people he touched. I think all of these things need to be considered.”

Neither the Catholic University nor Bonhams responded to messages asking for comment.

https://nypost.com/2022/05/07/battle-looms-over-1-5m-wizard-of-oz-dress-found-in-storage-closet/ Dispute over $1.5 million Wizard of Oz dress found in storage closet

JACLYN DIAZ

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