January 23, 2024

dorothy dress

The famed gingham checkered blue dress worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz that the late Mercedes McCambridge donated to The Catholic University of America, can now be auctioned to raise funds for an endowed professorship at Catholic University’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art.

In April 2022, the University announced that it had partnered with Bonhams, an international auctioneer, to display and auction the dress that had been given by McCambridge. However, the auction was canceled due to a filing of a lawsuit by Barbara Ann Hartke, the niece of Father Gilbert Hartke - claiming that the dress was owned by the estate of Father Gilbert Hartke even though the estate of Father Hartke was properly settled and the estate never listed the dress as Father Hartke’s personal property.

On December 11, 2023, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York dismissed Plaintiff Barbara Ann Hartke’s claims, noting that Father Hartke, as a Dominican priest, had taken a vow of poverty and relinquished any and all claims to material goods and that Barabara Hartke lacked standing to bring a claim on behalf of the settled Estate of Father Hartke. Today, that same judge again denied the plaintiff’s claims and dismissed the Plaintiff’s request to amend her complaint and refile the case.

“While it took a little while longer, it is very satisfying to know that we will be able to proceed with an auction to raise funds benefiting a school that Father Hartke loved so dearly,” said Jacqueline J. Leary-Warsaw, dean of the Rome School. “Just like in the movie the Wizard of Oz, we have encountered some obstacles to reach this destination, but in the end it will be worth it - benefiting our students and our program.”  

dorothy dressMcCambridge, a Hollywood actress and artist-in-residence at Catholic University in 1973, presented the dress to Catholic University for the benefit of students in a well reported presentation to Father Hartke, the legendary head of the drama school.

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.

Documentation indicates the dress was presented to Fr. Hartke when he was the head of the Catholic University Drama Department with the intention it be used to support the Catholic University 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.