Auction of Judy Garland ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress in jeopardy as judge sets hearing on ownership lawsuit

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

Hulton Archive | Moviepix | Getty Images

The planned auction of a long-lost dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” is in jeopardy after a federal judge on Monday ordered a hearing on why he should not block the sale pending the outcome of a lawsuit over its ownership.

The hearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan was set for May 23, a day before Bonham’s auction house is currently scheduled to auction the dress on behalf of The Catholic University of America.

Judge Paul Gardephe’s order scheduling the court session came after a lawyer for Wisconsin resident Barbara Hartke asked him to stop the dress’s sale until the lawsuit could be decided.

Hartke, 81, claims in her suit that the dress is the legal property of the estate of her late uncle, the Rev. Gilbert Hartke, who founded Catholic University’s drama school.

Barbara Hartke, as an heir, could be one of the people to inherit the dress if she wins the lawsuit.

A blue and white checked gingham dress, worn by Judy Garland in the “Wizard of Oz,” hangs on display, Monday, April 25, 2022, at Bonhams in New York.

Katie Vasquez | AP

But the Washington, D.C., university has said it is the “rightful owner” of the dress that was given to Hartke in 1973 by Academy Award-winning actress Mercedes McCambridge.

The university said that Gilbert Harkte’s vow of poverty as a Roman Catholic priest barred him from accepting gifts as his personal property.

“Fr. Hartke’s estate does not have a property interest in it,” the school said in a May 6 statement.

The blue-and-white gingham dress is one of just two of what are believed to have been six dresses made for Garland to wearing the classic “Oz” film. Bonham’s has estimated the dress could sell for anywhere between $800,000 and $1.2 million.

The other dress was auctioned in 2015 by Bonham’s for more than $1.5 million.

Gilbert Hartke’s possession of the dress was well known at Catholic University after McCambridge gave it to him in appreciation for his assistance to her as she battled alcoholism.

But the dress was missing for decades until it was found last June in a trash bag above the faculty mail slots during a renovation of the school’s Hartke Theater.

A spokeswoman for Catholic University on Monday referred CNBC’s request for comment on the temporary injunction blocking the sale to attorneys for the school, who did not immediately respond to emails.

Barbara Hartke’s lawyer and Bonham’s did not immediately respond to requests for comment.