There’s No Place Like Court! “Dorothy Dress” at Center of Ownership Suit


An legendary piece of film historical past is now contested assets in a authorized battle. (impression courtesy Bonhams)

There is no put like probate court docket! What was established to be a routine auction system for a exclusive piece of Hollywood memorabilia has taken a cinematic plot twist, as authorized questions have been elevated regarding the possession of the unusual and a short while ago rediscovered “Dorothy Costume” — one particular of a mere handful of remaining unique costumes worn by Judy Garland in the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz.

The gown, anticipated to fetch up to $1.2 million, arrived to Bonhams Los Angeles final thirty day period by way of the Catholic University of The us (CU) in Washington, DC. It experienced been gifted to the obviously beloved previous head of the school’s drama section, Reverend Gilbert Hartke, by Mercedes McCambridge, a Hollywood actor and artist-in-home at the University in 1973 and shut mate of Garland’s. Shed in the school’s archives due to the fact the 1980s, the rediscovered costume was meant for sale to fund a college chair endowment and create a new film acting application at the university.

Now all those programs, and the auction, are on indefinite maintain, as a lawsuit submitted by Barbara Ann Hartke, the 81-12 months-outdated niece of Reverend Hartke, has lifted the concern of who precisely was the recipient of McCambridge’s present — and who consequently retains possession of the gown today.

“She [McCambridge] was obviously a near confidant of Judy Garland and the reward of the dress to Gilbert V. Hartke was to thank Hartke for his counseling and support,” the lawsuit states, according to WTOP Information. It is contended that McCambridge had a extended-phrase personal romantic relationship with Reverend Hartke and presented him the gown in appreciation for his enable in the actress’s battle with alcoholic beverages and compound abuse — a battle which also notoriously afflicted Garland and took her lifetime just a couple weeks immediately after her 47th birthday.

At the time of the donation, McCambridge explained to CU’s pupil newspaper Tower that Garland experienced generally explained “it all could have been different” if she’d attended faculty. McCambridge donated the costume in hopes that it would serve as “a resource of hope, strength and bravery to the students.”

Though Barbara Ann Hartke’s claim on the dress is contentious, it has merited enough legitimacy to halt the sale of the legendary gingham pinafore and puff-sleeved shirt when the courtroom investigates — a method that could just take months or many years to take care of.

Archive photo of Reverend Gilbert Hartke holding the dress (picture courtesy Catholic University)

“I was just stunned after all this time, in this article it had been uncovered, and listed here it is currently being rushed off to the auction residence,” Hartke claimed in an interview. “I just want to know who has possession more than this … I’d like to see the documentation.”

Lawyers for the college argue that Gilbert Hartke took a vow of poverty, that means he didn’t obtain or acknowledge any gifts as his personal personal assets, and that McCambridge donated the gown to Hartke in his potential as the university’s drama instructor to profit the students of the drama program. CU’s authorized crew is giving proof that features signed affidavits from a grandniece and grandnephew of Hartke that affirm that the priest would have desired the gown to belong to and advantage the faculty, as properly as a 1979 newspaper write-up that states gifts acquired by Hartke became the “monastery’s, the community’s or the drama school’s house (which involves Judy Garland’s costume in The Wizard of Oz and a lot of Claire Booth Luce’s library).”

“The Court’s choice to preserve the position quo was preliminary and did not get to the merits of Barbara Hartke’s claim to the dress,” Shawn Brenhouse, an legal professional for Catholic University, informed Hyperallergic. “We look ahead to presenting our situation, and the too much to handle evidence contradicting Ms. Hartke’s claim, to the Courtroom in the study course of this litigation.”

There is no pot of gold over this rainbow: Excitement about locating a beloved piece of Wizard of Oz historical past has now dissolved into a problem that is going to get a large amount of brains, heart, bravery — and most of all, lawyers — to solve.


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