April 19, 2022
Detail shot of Dorothy dress

A dress worn by Judy Garland in her role as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” will be auctioned in Los Angeles on May 24, with the proceeds used to help establish a new film acting program at The Catholic University of America’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art.

The long-missing dress was discovered at the University in July 2021 while the staff was preparing for the renovation of the Hartke Theatre. It will be featured in the “Bonhams Classic Hollywood: Film and Television” sale. Bonhams, the international auctioneer, estimates the dress’s value at $800,000 to $1.2 million.

Rev. Gilbert Hartke with the dress

Mercedes McCambridge, a Hollywood actress and artist-in-residence at Catholic University in 1973, gave the dress to Rev. Gilbert Hartke, O.P., the legendary head of the drama school, but the dress was missing between the late 1980s to 2021.

According to Bonhams, the blue and white gingham dress is one of only two existing dresses retaining the original white blouse and only one of four blue and white pinafore dresses in existence. This Catholic University dress has been matched to a specific scene in the movie: when Dorothy faced the Wicked Witch of the West in the witch’s castle.

“Discovering this historic dress was a memorable moment for The Catholic University of America and we are proud to present it for auction, so that the next collector can own a piece of history,” said Jacqueline J. Leary-Warsaw, dean of the Rome School. “While parting with this dress is bittersweet, the proceeds are going to help support future generations training for professional careers in theater. It might just be that the funding helps to prepare the next Mercedes McCambridge or Judy Garland!”

Documentation indicates the dress was given to Fr. Hartke with the intention it be used to support the drama department. The proceeds from the auction will endow a faculty chair, a position that will support the current bachelor of fine arts degree in acting for theater, film, and television as well as the development of a new formal film acting program.

Dorothy dress on display standHelen Hall, Director of Popular Culture at Bonhams in Los Angeles, said, “Important costumes from this iconic movie rarely appear on the auction market and to be able to pinpoint the scene in which this was worn by Judy Garland is thrilling.”

The other dress with blouse was sold by Bonhams in 2015 for over $1.5 million, a record price for a “Dorothy” dress. The dress from Catholic University will be on view at Bonhams New York (580 Madison Ave.) from April 23 to 29 and at Bonhams Los Angeles (7601 Sunset Blvd.) from May 20 to 24, with the sale on May 24.