NEW YORK — It’s one of the most recognizable outfits in American movie history, the blue-and-white checked gingham dress a young Judy Garland wore as Dorothy in the classic 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz.”
One of the dresses Garland wore was lost for decades at Catholic University of America. It had been donated to the drama department sometime in the 1970s. But the clearing out of some office clutter last year led to the finding of the dress in an old shoebox, and now it’s headed for the auction block.
When she first saw it, “all I could think about was watching the movie when I was a child and growing up with” it, said Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw, dean of the school of music, drama and art at Catholic University, in Washington, D.C. “In a way it was like I was looking at my past childhood.”
She and others are hopeful that nostalgia factor will come into play when the costume goes up for sale at Bonhams “Classic Hollywood: Film and Television” auction on May 24 in Los Angeles, where it has a presale estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. Bonhams has the dress on display this week at the auction house’s New York location before it is sent to California for public view and then auction.
Helen Hall, director of popular culture for Bonhams, said that the market for memorabilia, and film costumes in particular, is strong, and that “The Wizard of Oz” is a cultural touchstone.
People “very much remember the first time they saw the film, the effect it had on their lives,” she said. Film’s music, dialogue, and visuals are well-known, especially when Dorothy travels from Kansas in drab sepia to Oz in glorious multicolored glory.
The Tin Man (Jack Haley), Dorothy (19 Judy Garland) and Scarecrow (20 Ray Bolger) began their search for happiness in the classic children’s story ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ directed by Victor Fleming, MGM, 1939.
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Garland was given more than one costume while filming. Hall stated that there are four of the costumes known to exist, and only two are the ones with the blouse that she wore. Bonhams bought the second one in 2015 with a blouse for $1.5 million.
(There are also surviving pairs, including one set at the Smithsonian.)
The rediscovered dress had initially been given to Father Gilbert Hartke, who was then head of the university’s drama department, in 1973 by actress Mercedes McCambridge, Leary-Warsaw said, although it’s not clear how McCambridge came to have it.
Somehow, in the years that followed, the department lost track of the costume until it became “something that people had thought was just a myth,” she said. Last year, during preparations for a renovation, a bag containing the shoebox was opened, and there it was — though how it got to where it ended up remains a mystery, Leary-Warsaw said.
The condition of the gown was good, with one exception: it had been worn once, and the blouse was less fragile.
The dress was found to be worn by Garland in the scene when she is confronted by the Wicked Witch of the West in a castle.
It was decided that the school would sell it instead of keeping it. The proceeds will be used to establish a drama department with a complete film production program.
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