Fight threatens over $1.5 million ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress found in storage closet

She’s not fond of this Hollywood memorabilia auction.

A Wisconsin woman has gone to court to stop selling a long-lost piece of movie history: the blue-and-white gingham-check apron dress worn by Judy Garland in the “Wizard of Oz” — which is worth $1.5 million could be.

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

“I was just surprised after all this time, here it was found and here it is rushed to the auction house,” Barbara Hartke, 81, told The Post.

“I just want to know who owns this… I’d like to see the documentation,” she added.

The costume, complete with a short-sleeved blouse in cream-colored organdy and Garland’s name written on a label inside, was a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge to Hartke’s uncle, Reverend Gilbert Hartke, a famous-in-his-own-right priest. and professor who founded the university’s drama department, the family is battling the family in a $3 million lawsuit in Manhattan. It is unclear how McCambridge got the dress.

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

“I’ve met Mercedes McCambridge a few times and I especially remember her fondness for Uncle Gib,” Hartke recalls. “He helped her fight alcoholism. … That was the idea, that this was given to Gib out of deep appreciation of hers.”

Oscar winner McCambridge, a contemporary of Garland who is perhaps best known in modern times 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 being offered for a pre-auction estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. Another of the surviving Dorothy dresses cost more than $1.5 million in 2015.

The dress, complete with a short-sleeved blouse in cream-colored organdy and Garland's name written on a label inside, was a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge to Hartke's uncle, the Reverend Gilbert Hartke.
The dress, complete with a short-sleeved blouse in cream-colored organdy and Garland’s name written on a label inside, was a gift from actress Mercedes McCambridge to Hartke’s uncle, the Reverend Gilbert Hartke.
THROUGH REUTERS; Thanks to Bonhams

“There was no attempt to reach us or any of the family. It was like it was there, it was found in this box and then we went straight to the races and that was that. Has anything else been found?” wondered Hartke, a retired public school teacher in Chicago.

Father Hartke, the youngest of seven children growing up on the north side of Chicago, died of heart disease in 1986 at the age of 79. A well-known figure in Washington DC, he advised presidents from Harry Truman to Jimmy Carter, and mentored future theater critic Walter Kerr and actors such as Jon Voight and Henry Gibson.

It was a stormy couple of days for Hartke’s remaining family, who learned of the dress auction through news reports, grandnephew Tony Lehman said.

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

Catholic University simply ignored the family here, attorney Anthony Scordo said.

The college urged The Post that it “is the rightful owner of the dress. … Actress Mercedes McCambridge donated the dress to Fr. Hartke in his capacity as a professor of drama at Catholic University.”

Her intention [was] to donate the dress to support Catholic University drama students. … It was decided to auction the dress to support the students.”

The university added that Father Hartke, as a priest in the Dominican order, “had taken a vow of poverty. He swore not to receive or accept any gifts as his own 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 won’t evaporate,” she said of the dress. “I think it’s wise to decide, ‘What’s the message we want here? What is the tribute to Uncle Gib? To his kindness and also to Mercedes McCambridge and the good people he touched. I think all those things have to be taken into account.”

Bonhams did not respond to a message asking for comment.

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