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Catholic University says it owns Judy Garland Wizard of Oz dress

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A lobby card from the film ‘The Wizard Of Oz,’ shows a movie still of a scene by which American actress Judy Garland (1922 – 1969) (as Dorothy) wipes tears from the eyes of actor Bert Lahr (1895 – 1967) (because the Cowardly Lion), while watched by Jack Haley (1898 – 1979) (because the Tin Man) (left), and Ray Bolger (1904 – 1987) (because the Scarecrow), 1939. The film was directed by Victor Fleming.

Hulton Archive | Moviepix | Getty Images

The Catholic University of America won’t give up Dorothy’s dress — with out a court fight.

The university insisted in a latest statement to CNBC that it — and never the estate of a late priest and drama professor — is the “rightful owner” of a once long-lost dress worn by Judy Garland within the classic film “The Wizard of Oz.”

The Washington, D.C., university also said that a latest lawsuit filed by the niece of the Rev. Gilbert Hartke, which goals to dam an upcoming auction of the blue-and-white gingham dress, “has no basis in law or fact.”

Gilbert Hartke had been gifted the dress in 1973.

The college’s statement got here just as a lawyer for Hartke’s 81-year-old niece asked a federal judge in Latest York City in a latest court filing to issue a brief injunction that may not less than postpone the May 24 auction of the dress on the university’s behalf. The dress is anticipated to fetch as much as $1 million or more at an auction held by Bonham’s in Los Angeles.

Hartke, as a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Dominican Order, “had taken a vow of poverty,” the varsity noted within the statement.

“He vowed to not receive or accept any gifts as his own personal property, and on the time of his death didn’t have any tangible items in his estate,” Catholic University said.

“Actually, a list of Fr. Hartke’s estate conducted in 1987 listed nothing of value in personal possessions or any tangible property of any sort, despite other documented gifts to Fr. Hartke for the advantage of Catholic University over time. 

“Catholic University is the rightful owner of the dress, and Fr. Hartke’s estate doesn’t have a property interest in it,” the varsity said.

In a court motion filed Friday that seeks a brief injunction barring the auction, a lawyer for Hartke’s niece, Barbara Ann Hartke, said that the Wisconsin woman will suffer “irreparable injury” if the Bonham’s auction is allowed to proceed before the resolution of her suit claiming ownership of the dress by the estate of her uncle.

“Because plaintiff’s asset is in Defendant’s possession and will likely be sold to the best bidding party, plaintiff will effectively lose the flexibility to reclaim possession of hers and, or the estate’s property once the auction takes place,” Barbara Hartke’s lawyer, Anthony Scordo, also argued in his filing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Scordo also wrote, “There may be a powerful public interest for the court to enter an injunction here.”

“This property is … vital to the American public for reasons which can be articulated within the Verified Criticism. The indisputable fact that a vital a part of Americana won’t be in the general public realm and be lost endlessly,” Scordo wrote.

The dress is one in all only two dresses known to still exist of the several created for Garland to wear in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz.” The opposite dress was auctioned in 2015 by Bonham’s for greater than $1.5 million.

Judge Paul Gardephe has not yet ruled on the motion looking for a brief injunction. Neither Bonham’s nor Scordo has responded to requests for comment.

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CNBC revealed earlier this week that Barbara Hartke had sued the university and Bonham’s after she said she only recently learned from press reports that the dress gifted to her uncle was soon going up for auction after having been lost for a long time.

The dress was found last July in a trash bag within the university’s drama department.

Catholic University desires to sell the dress to boost money for its drama school, which Gilbert Hartke founded.

The priest was given the dress in 1973 by his friend, the actress Mercedes McCambridge, who credited him with helping her deal together with her alcoholism.

Across the time McCambridge gave him the dress, she was acting because the voice of the demon Pazuzu within the horror movie “The Exorcist,” which was filmed in Washington.

She previously had won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1949 for her performance in “All of the King’s Men,” and was nominated in the identical category for her role in “Giant,” which starred Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson.

Gilbert Hartke himself was a outstanding figure in Washington theater who “was very much the person about town,” comfortable on the White House and in D.C.’s power restaurants as he rubbed elbows with the capital city’s political and social elite, The Washington Post noted in his 1986 obituary when he died at age 79.

Hartke also was one in all two Catholic priests asked by the widow of President John Kennedy to remain along with his body on the White House before his funeral after his 1963 assassination.

But despite his high profile, Hartke as a priest was certain by his vow of poverty, Catholic University noted in its statement Friday stating that the varsity is the legal owner of the dress.

“Catholic University understands the solemnity of those vows, as did McCambridge and Fr. Hartke on the time of the donation to Catholic University,” the statement said. “Consistent with these vows, the dress was a present to further Fr. Hartke’s vital legacy of constructing the School of Drama here at Catholic University. 

“The University’s research of contemporaneous sources and the evidence fully demonstrates McCambridge’s intent to donate the dress to support the drama students at Catholic University. The criticism provides no evidence on the contrary.”

The university said that when the dress was discovered last summer, “Catholic University didn’t reach out to the family of Fr. Hartke since the dress was gifted to Catholic University for the advantage of the scholars within the Rome School.”

Barbara Hartke’s lawyer Scordo, in his motion looking for to dam the auction, argued that delaying the planned sale of the dress until her lawsuit is resolved won’t harm Catholic University or Bonham’s financially.

“Entry of an injunction here is warranted and can place no undue burden on the defendants,” Scordo wrote.

“Defendants cannot argue that the delay in auctioning the property will cause
any harm in anyway given the time that has elapsed because the death of decedent. There is no such thing as a
indication that the fair market value will experience any real change should the auction be
postponed pending resolution of this litigation.”

But Scordo said Barbara Hartke “will likely be the party harmed here should this auction not be enjoined.”

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