May 18, 2022

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The battle looms with more than $1.5 million worth of 'Wizard of Oz' dress found in the storage locker

The battle looms with more than $1.5 million worth of ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress found in the storage locker

It’s not over the rainbow about this Hollywood memorabilia auction.

A Wisconsin woman has taken to court to stop the sale of a long-lost piece of film history: the white and blue t-shirt dress that Judy Garland wore in “The Wizard of Oz” — which could be worth up to $1.5 million.

The iconic outfit, one of five versions of the dress worn by Dorothy from Garland in the 1939 classic, is set to be auctioned May 24 by Bonhams In Los Angeles at the request of the Catholic University of Washington, DC, where it was discovered In a shoebox inside a storage closet last year.

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

She added, “I just want to know who owns this… I’d like to see the documents.”

Completed with a cream burgundy short-sleeved blouse with Garland’s name written on a label on the inside, the outfit was a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge to Hartke’s uncle Reverend Gilbert Hartke, famous in his own right. Priest and professor who founded the university’s Department of Drama, the family is vying in a $3 million lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. It is unclear how McCambridge acquired the dress.

Barbara Ann Hartke claims in a lawsuit that the dress belonged to the property of her uncle, Reverend Gilbert of Hartke, who died in 1986.
Eli Branson / @elifromchi

“I’ve met Mercedes McCambridge several times and my memory is mostly of her fondness for Uncle Jeb,” Hartke recalls. “He helped her fight alcoholism. …that was the idea, that this was a gift she deeply appreciated.”

Academy Award winner McCambridge, a contemporary of Garland perhaps best known in modern times To express the demon possessing the character of Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”, He was the university’s resident artist from 1972 to 1973.

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The Wizard of Oz dress, one of only two complete copies of the costume known to still exist, is fetching a pre-auction estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. I went for the rest of Dorothy’s dresses Over $1.5 million in 2015.

The dress, complete with a cream burgundy short-sleeve blouse and Garland's name written on a label on the inside, was a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge to Hartke's uncle Reverend Gilbert Hartke.
The dress, complete with a cream burgundy short-sleeve blouse and Garland’s name written on a label on the inside, was a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge to Hartke’s uncle Reverend Gilbert Hartke.
Via Reuters, Courtesy of Bonhams

“There was no effort to reach us or communicate with any of the family. It was like there was, it was found in that box and then immediately we started racing and that was it. Was anything else found?” asked Hartke, a retired Chicago Public School teacher.

Father Hartke, the youngest of seven children who grew up on the North Side of Chicago, died in 1986 at the age of 79 of heart disease. It was A well-known figure in Washington, D.C.advising presidents from Harry Truman to Jimmy Carter, and directing future theater critic Walter Kerr and actors like Jon Voight and Henry Gibson.

It’s been a whirlwind few days for the remaining Hartke family, who learned of the dress’s auction via news reports, said his nephew Tony Lyman.

“We are now just focusing on, ‘What is ownership?'” said Lyman, 60. “

Lawyer Anthony Scordo said the Catholic University “just ignored the family here”.

The college insisted to The Post that it was “the rightful owner of the dress. … Actress Mercedes McCambridge donated the dress to Father. Hartke as Professor of Drama at the Catholic University.”

she meant [was] To donate the dress to support drama students at the Catholic University. … The decision to auction the dress was made in order to support the students.”

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

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

“It won’t evaporate,” she said of the dress. “I think it makes sense for us to decide, ‘What message do we want here? What is a tribute to Uncle Jeb? To his kindness as well as to Mercedes Cambridge and the kind people who influenced him. I think all of these things should be considered.”

Bonhams did not respond to a letter seeking comment.