Lawsuit Blocks Catholic University’s Auction of ‘Wizard of Oz’ Robe | National Catholic Register
WASHINGTON — A dress worn by Judy Garland in her classic role as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz is now the main character in a surprise drama. The secondary characters are the Catholic University of America and some relatives of a priest and former professor who they say wished his relatives had owned the rare collectible, not the university.
The university had planned to auction off the dress to fund its drama school. Those plans were delayed by a legal challenge from Wisconsin resident Barbara Ann Hartke, 81, niece of Dominican father Gilbert Hartke, founder and director of the university’s drama school. She says the robe should be hers because she is the priest’s closest living relative.
Barbra Ann Hartke’s lawyer, Anthony Scordo, told OMCP that there was “absolutely no legal documentation of such a gift to the university” in any of her court documents. Her lawsuit also objects that the university did not contact her when the dress was rediscovered.
“I was just surprised after all this time, here it had been found, and here it is being transported to the auction,” Barbara Ann Hartke told the New York Post earlier this month. Tony Lehman, a great-nephew of Father Hartke, is also supporting the lawsuit.
The university argues that parents who oppose it have no case. Lawyers for the university claim the robe was given to the priest in his capacity as a drama professor at the university. The university further notes that Father Hartke, as a devoted Dominican, was not permitted to keep his personal possessions.
“We look forward to the opportunity to present the damning evidence, including a statement from another family member, supporting Catholic University’s possession of the dress in court next week,” a porter said. speech of the Catholic University of America to CNA on May 17.
“The university’s position is that the allegations in the lawsuit have no basis in law or fact because the Catholic University is the rightful owner of the dress and Father Hartke’s estate is not involved. ‘ownership interest,’ the spokesperson said.
Mercedes McCambridge, an Oscar-winning actress and artist-in-residence at Catholic University in 1973, had given the dress to Father Hartke, who died in 1986. In the late 1980s, the dress disappeared and the costume was the subject of rumors. . Matt Ripa, a lecturer and operations coordinator for the university’s drama department, came across a bag on top of the faculty mailboxes in 2021. He opened the bag to find a mailbox. shoes, inside which was the dress.
The university had planned an auction of the dress in hopes of raising more than $1 million for its drama department.
New York U.S. District Court Judge Paul Gardephe imposed a temporary restraining order on the auction pending a hearing the day before the dress was scheduled to be auctioned through the auctioneer company Bonhams.
According to Bonhams, actress Judy Garland wore the gingham dress while filming a scene in which her character Dorothy Gale faces off against the Wicked Witch of the West in the Witch’s Castle.
The dress from the classic 1939 film is one of only two dresses in existence that retains its white blouse. It is now valued at between $800,000 and $1.2 million, Bonhams said. Another surviving dress was auctioned off for $1.5 million in 2015.
Father Hartke was one of six siblings. The Catholic University of America has collected the testimony of other relatives to support its thesis that she is the owner of the dress.
Thomas Kuipers, a great-nephew of Hartke, said the priest told him “I couldn’t have it because the dress belonged to the Catholic University”. He said he and other descendants of Father Hartke’s sister, Inez Mercedes Hartke, supported the auction of the dress donated to the university.
Margo Carper, granddaughter of Father Hartke’s brother Joseph, also supported the university.
William Largess, who was an undergraduate student in the Catholic University’s drama department from 1972 to 1976, said he was with the priest “several times” when he pulled out a robe to show students that Largess understood that it was a dress from “The Wizard of Oz”. .”
“I specifically remember Father Gilbert V. Hartke saying that Mrs. Mercedes McCambridge gave the dress to the drama department at Catholic University,” said Largess, who is now an assistant professor of theater at George Washington University. .
Dominican Father Kenneth R. Letoile, Prior Provincial of St. Joseph Province, described the Dominican approach to the vow of poverty.
“Based on my knowledge of the Dominican Order and my understanding that Father Hartke had taken a vow of poverty, as is required to become a member of the Dominican Order, Father Hartke was not permitted to possess what whether by right of personal property,” said Father Letoile. .
If anything had been given to him personally, he would have been required to donate to his province “in accordance with his wishes and solemn profession.”
Father Letoile says that the Dominican province does not claim any right to the robe.
“I hereby affirm, on behalf of the province, that the Catholic University of America has full ownership of the robe,” he said.
When the auction for the dress was announced in April, the Catholic University of America said it had documentation indicating that the dress had been gifted to Hartke with the intention that it be used to support the theater department.
If the auction continues, proceeds from the sale will endow a faculty chair, a position that will support the current Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater, Film, and Television Performance, as well as the development of a new formal film program. at the university’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art.
Jackie Leary-Warsaw, dean of the drama school, is the wife of Michael Warsaw, president and CEO of Global Catholic Network EWTN, the parent network of the Catholic News Agency.