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Catholic U selling Dorothy dress to help school’s drama department

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

Father Gilbert V. Hartke, founder of The Catholic University of America’s speech and drama department, is seen in this undated photo holding the dress worn by actor Judy Garland in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz.” The name of the student standing with him is unknown. (CNS photo/Special Collections, courtesy The Catholic University of America)

The dress, which turned up last summer at The Catholic University of America after it was missing for nearly 40 years, is about to get a new home as the university plans to sell it and use the proceeds to help establish the school’s new film acting program.

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

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

According to Bonhams, which estimated the monetary value of the dress, the costume is one of four blue and white pinafore dresses made for the movie and one of only two existing dresses with the original white blouse.

The Catholic University dress has been matched to a specific scene when Dorothy faced 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.

“Discovering this historic dress was a memorable moment for The Catholic University of America and we are proud to present it for auction, so that the next collector can own a piece of history,” said Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw, dean of the university’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama and Art.

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

Documentation indicates the dress was given to Father Hartke to support the school’s drama department, like what school officials said proceeds of the auction will do. The money will not only develop a new film acting program but also will endow a faculty chair.

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

The dress, long rumored to be owned by the school, showed up without much Hollywood fanfare last summer in a white trash bag stashed high in a theater department’s office.

Last June, in preparation for renovation work to start on the university’s Hartke Theater, a department faculty member noticed a white trash bag above the faculty mail slots. Inside the bag was a green shoe-sized box whose contents needed no explanation for Matt Ripa.

Ripa, a lecturer and operations coordinator in the university’s drama department, took one look inside and began laughing hysterically because there was the dress he had spent years looking for in the theater’s archives and storage closets and had essentially given up hope of finding.

He is pretty sure the dress turned up because a retired drama department professor discovered it while doing some pandemic cleaning out and sorting. A note taped to the bag simply said: “I found this in my office.”

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