The niece of a dead priest is suing a US auction house to try to halt the sale of Judy Garland’s iconic Wizard of Oz gingham dress.
The blue and white checked dress, believed to be one of six originals from the film was due to go under the hammer at Bonhams on Tuesday but may now be withdrawn.
According to the auctioneer, the dress was being offered for sale by the Catholic University of America based in Washington, DC.
It had been gifted to the University’s former Head of Drama, Reverend Gilbert Hartke, by Mercedes McCambridge, a Hollywood actress and Artist in Residence at the University in 1973.
She was also known for being the voice of the demon in 1973′s religious-horror classic The Exorcist.
After Gilbert died in 1986, the dress went missing, and was recently discovered, so it was decided to put it up for auction with the proceeds of the sale benefitting the drama department.
But cue stage left, and the priest’s niece Barbara Hartke, who says the valuable piece of Hollywood memorabilia belongs to her late uncle’s estate and should therefore not be sold by the university.
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Movie memorabilia sales are big business. One of the other dresses from the film was sold by Bonhams in 2015 and fetched more than $1.5 million. It also sold the Cowardly Lion costume worn by actor Bert Lahr for more than $3 million in 2014.
Ms Hartke, who lives in Wisconsin, named the university and the auction house as defendants in her lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court.
The suit seeks an injunction from the court that would prevent the auction from taking place.
As part of the sale information accompanying the lot, Helen Hall, Director of Popular Culture at Bonhams in Los Angeles, had said the dress had an “incredible history” and the auction house was “honoured to be a part of its journey”.