‘Wizard of Oz’ dress auction blocked by judge: Here’s why

U.S.
A blue and white checked gingham dress, worn by Judy Garland in the "Wizard of Oz," hangs on display, Monday, April 25, 2022, at Bonhams in New York. One of the most iconic outfits in American movie history is heading for auction, discovered in a box after decades of being thought lost. The dress was found last year at the Catholic University of America, and is on display in New York City before being put up for sale next month by Bonhams. (AP Photo/Katie Vasquez)

A blue-and-white-checked gingham dress, worn by Judy Garland in the “Wizard of Oz,” hangs on display, Monday, April 25, 2022, at Bonhams in New York. (AP Photo/Katie Vasquez)

(NEXSTAR) – One of the blue-and-white checkered dresses worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” won’t be going home this weekend.

The dress was slated to sell for up to $1.2 million at Bonhams auction house in Los Angeles on Tuesday, CNN reports. But Monday, a U.S. District Judge in Manhattan halted the sale.

The reason? A fight over who actually owns the dress.

According to court documents, 81 year-old Barbara Anne Hartke says the dress belonged to her late uncle, Father Gilbert Hartke. Barbara claims the dress was given to her uncle, who worked at the Catholic University of America, by actress Mercedes McCambridge in 1973, NBC News reported.

After Father Hartke’s death, the dress got lost in the shuffle and was only rediscovered in a shoebox at the university last year. Barbara Hartke filed a lawsuit after learning the school was planning to auction it off.

Hartke says there’s no evidence her uncle ever “formally or informally” donated the dress to the university and that it belongs to her as his only living heir, NBC reported. Meanwhile, the university’s countersuit reads that Father Hartke had taken a vow “to never accept gifts in his personal capacity,” so it couldn’t be part of his estate.

Barbara Hartke’s attorney told CNN that the university is “not clear exactly what the vow consisted of,” claiming that Father Hartke “always accepted and [had] personal gifts.” Catholic University of America says there’s “overwhelming evidence” refuting Hartke’s ownership.

“Catholic University continues to be committed to its plan to use proceeds from a sale of the dress to endow a faculty position in the Rome School of Music, Drama and Art, which it believes is in line with Mercedes McCambridge’s original intent and Father Gilbert Hartke’s desire to support and grow the University’s drama program,” the school told CNN in a statement.

Bonhams’ auction catalog indicates that the dress was worn by Garland in scenes set at the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West.

Despite the dress drama, the frock likely isn’t the most recognizable — or coveted — item from “The Wizard of Oz.”

Several pairs of the red-sequined heels — widely known as the “Ruby Slippers” — worn by Garland in the film have a storied history of sales and even theft. Smithsonian reports there are at least four surviving pairs of Ruby Slippers, including one that disappeared from the Judy Garland Museum in 2005.

The missing pair was ultimately located and seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation during a sting investigation. According to the FBI, the shoes, known as “the traveling pair,” were located after someone with knowledge of their whereabouts approached the company that insured them to discuss how they could be returned.

But the FBI soon discovered this person was “in reality attempting to extort the owners of the slippers.”

As of 2019, another pair is located at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, while the fourth — an early prototype — is last known to be owned by late actress Debbie Reynolds.

Meanwhile, the National Museum of American History’s Preservation Services spent about two years restoring Smithsonian’s own pair, which it acquired in 1979 from an undisclosed donor. As part of this process, conservators had to make repairs or restorations to each and every sequin, bead and thread, a Smithsonian spokesperson said.

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