Catholic University Sells Dorothy Dress to Help School’s Drama Department

By CAROL ZIMMERMANN

Dorothy’s refrain, “There’s no place like home,” in “The Wizard of Oz” could also be echoed by her blue and white gingham dress from the 1939 film.

The dress, which appeared last summer at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. after being missing for nearly 40 years, is set to have a new home as the university plans to sell it and use the proceeds to help establish the school. new movie program.

The costume, worn by Judy Garland, was given to the head of the theater department in 1973, but no one knew where it was since the late 1980s until it was discovered during a renovation of the theater from campus last year.

Now somewhat faded and yellowed, the dress is estimated at between $800,000 and $1.2 million. It will be auctioned on May 24 in Los Angeles during the “Bonhams Classic Hollywood: Film and Television” sale organized by the international auction house.

According to Bonhams, who estimated the monetary value of the dress, the costume is one of four blue and white pinafore dresses made for the film and one of only two dresses in existence with the original white blouse.

The Catholic University dress was matched to a specific scene when Dorothy confronted the Wicked Witch in her castle.

Mercedes McCambridge, a Hollywood actress and artist-in-residence at Catholic University in 1973, gave the dress to Dominican Father Gilbert Hartke, the legendary founder and head of the university’s drama department.

“The discovery of this historic dress was a momentous moment for The Catholic University of America and we are proud to present it at auction, so that the next collector can own a piece of history,” said Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw. , Dean of the Benjamin T. University School of Music, Theater and Art in Rome.

“While parting with this dress is bittersweet, the proceeds will help support the training of future generations for professional theater careers. It could just be that the funding helps prepare the next Mercedes McCambridge or Judy Garland,” she said in a statement.

Documentation indicates that the dress was given to Father Hartke to support the school’s drama department, as school officials said auction proceeds would do. The money will not only make it possible to develop a new film program, but also to endow a professorship.

“Major costumes from this iconic film rarely appear on the auction market and to be able to identify the scene in which it was worn by Judy Garland is thrilling,” said Helen Hall, director of popular culture at Bonhams in Los Angeles.

The other Dorothy dress with a blouse was sold by Bonhams in 2015 for over $1.5 million. The Catholic University gown can be seen at Bonhams New York from April 23-29 and at Bonhams Los Angeles from May 20-24 ahead of the May 24 sale.

The dress, which has long been said to belong to the school, appeared without much Hollywood fanfare last summer in a white trash bag stashed high in the office of a theater department.

Prior to its rediscovery, the dress had almost seemed legendary in the acting department. There were photos of Father Hartke holding the robe and showing it to faculty members, but no one knew what happened to it after the priest died in 1986.

Then last June, in preparation for the start of renovations to the university’s Hartke Theater, a department faculty member noticed a white garbage bag above the faculty’s mail slots. Inside the bag was a green box the size of a shoe, the contents of which needed no explanation for Matt Ripa.

Ripa, a lecturer and operations coordinator in the university’s drama department, peeked inside and started laughing hysterically because there was the dress he had been wearing. years of searching through the theater’s archives and storage cupboards and which he had essentially given up hope of finding.

He’s pretty sure the dress appeared because a retired drama department professor discovered it during a pandemic clean-up and triage. A note taped to the bag simply read, “Found this in my office.”

Although no one knows how Mrs. McCambridge, a friend of Mrs. Garland, came to own the dress, it does not seem unusual that she gave it to Father Hartke.

Maria Mazzenga, curator of the university’s American Catholic History Collections, noted the priest’s flair for the unique, saying he also owned a silk jacket from India, a 6-foot aviator sash long and a Russian fur hat.

“People gave him clothes because they knew he would like it,” she told Catholic News Service shortly after the dress was discovered.

Priest, a playwright and director who started the university’s theater department in 1937, was also instrumental in Washington, DC’s theater and civil rights efforts. He was friends with American presidents from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan and was one of two priests called to stay with President John F. Kennedy’s body at the White House before his funeral mass.

Ms McCambridge won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1949’s ‘All the King’s Men’ and was nominated for an Oscar for the 1956 film ‘Giant’, but she may have become even better known to be the voice of the demon child. in “The Exorcist” in 1973, although Warner Brothers did not cast him in the role.

A 1973 article in the campus newspaper, The Tower, said she had donated Mrs. Garland’s dress to be “a source of hope, strength and courage” for students.

The writer pointed out that it also addressed, to some extent, Ms Garland’s expressed regret at not going to college and her questions whether “everything could have been different” if she had.

“Judy’s fantasy has come true. A real part of her came to college,” the post read.

And now this part of her – a faded dress – will probably help the school in ways she never dreamed of.

—SNC

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