Battle looms over $1.5million ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress found in storage closet

She’s not crazy about 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 gingham pinafore dress worn by Judy Garland in ‘Wizard of Oz’ – which could be worth $1.5 million.

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

“I was just surprised after all this time, here it had been found, and here it’s being transported to the auction,” Barbara Hartke, 81, told the Post.

“I just want to know who owns it…I would like to see the documentation.”, she added.

The costume, with a short-sleeved cream organdy blouse and Garland’s name written on a tag inside, was a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge to Hartke’s uncle, the Reverend Gilbert Hartke, a famous at full share. priest and professor who founded the university’s drama department, the family is challenging in a $3 million lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan. It is unclear how McCambridge came to own the dress.

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

“I met Mercedes McCambridge a few times and mostly remember her fondness for Uncle Gib,” Hartke recalled. “He helped her fight against alcoholism. … It was the idea, that it was offered to Gib out of his deep appreciation.

Oscar-winning McCambridge, a contemporary of Garland who is perhaps best known in the modern age for voicing the demon that possessed Linda Blair’s character in ‘The Exorcist,’ was the artist-in-residence at the university from 1972 to 1973.

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

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

“There was no effort to contact us or any family members. It was like it was there, we found it in that box and then immediately we go to the races and it’s Is there anything else found?, wondered Hartke, a retired Chicago public school teacher.

Father Hartke, the youngest of seven children who grew up in North Chicago, died in 1986 at age 79 from heart disease. He was a well-known figure 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.

The past few days have been a whirlwind for Hartke’s remaining family, who learned about the dress auction via news reports, her great-nephew Tony Lehman said.

“We’re just focusing right now on, ‘What’s the property?'” Lehman, 60, said.

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

The college insisted to The Post that he was “the rightful owner of the dress. …Actress Mercedes McCambridge donated the dress to Father. Hartke in his capacity as a professor of theater at the Catholic University.

His intention [was] to donate the dress to support Catholic University drama students. … The decision was made to auction off the dress in support of the students.

The university added that Father Hartke, as a priest of the Dominican order, had “taken a vow of poverty. He swore 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 the sale.

“It’s not going to evaporate,” she said of the dress. “I think it makes sense to decide, ‘What is the message we want here? What is the tribute to Uncle Gib? To his kindness and to Mercedes McCambridge and the good people who were touched by him. I think all of those things have to be taken into account.

Bonhams did not respond to a message seeking comment.

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