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Possible $1.2M auction of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ Dorothy dress triggers lawsuit

Margaret Hamilton (1902 - 1985) as the Wicked Witch and Judy Garland (1922 - 1969) as Dorothy Gale in 'The Wizard of Oz,' 1939. Getty

Fashion historians, pop culture fans and cinephiles alike had reason to rejoice when the second-ever full costume worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz was found last month in a shoebox at a university’s drama department.

Though it is believed there are five versions of Dorothy’s iconic blue and white pinafore dress, the recently discovered costume is the second of only two outfits complete with the matching blouse.

Auction house Bonhams listed the costume for US$800,000 to $1,200,000, though a newly filed lawsuit claiming rightful ownership over the piece has cast doubt on the auction’s legitimacy.

According to CNBC, Barbara Hartke, who filed the lawsuit Tuesday in New York, claims the dress belongs to her, as it was gifted to her uncle, Rev. Gilbert Hartke, whose estate she owns.

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Gilbert Hartke was gifted the costume by Mercedes McCambridge, an Academy Award-winning actress and friend of Garland. McCambridge was best known for her roles in The Exorcist and All the King’s Men, for which she won an Academy Award.

Gilbert Hartke founded the drama department at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where McCambridge was an artist-in-residence.

In the lawsuit, Barbara Hartke’s legal team argues the university has no right to auction off the costume as McCambridge “specifically and publicly” gave the dress to her uncle. The suit argues that for this reason, the piece of Hollywood history is “an asset of the decedent’s estate.”

Hartke claims no one reached out to the estate about auctioning the costume. Her legal team is now pursuing a temporary restraining order or an injunction to stop the sale, according to court documents.

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The Catholic University told Forbes the school is reviewing the lawsuit’s allegations and will provide additional information “after a thorough review of the complaint.”

According to Bonhams, “The dress worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale throughout the scene set in the Witch’s Castle, when the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) has captured Dorothy and threatens her with death.”

A label inside the dress reading JUDY GARLAND 4223 (and several other factors like stitching, clasps and a hidden pocket) proved the costume’s legitimacy.

Bonhams has yet to respond publicly about the auction of the costume.

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