A “Dorothy Dress,” one of only two complete versions of the costume, up for auction at Bonhams (image courtesy Bonhams)

Memorabilia from the beloved book series-turned-iconic film The Wizard of Oz has extreme cachet — first editions have fetched tens of thousands of dollars and a pair of ruby slippers is valued between $2 and $3 million, according to some estimates. As covered by the 2021 podcast series There’s No Place Like Home, some Wizard of Oz enthusiasts will go to any lengths to get a piece of the classic Hollywood film in their collection — even going so far as to steal them.

Such nefariousness won’t be necessary for dedicated Oz-heads with their eyes on one particular upcoming lot at Bonhams in Los Angeles. Among other items, the auction house’s Classic Hollywood Film & Television sale on May 24 will include an authentic “Dorothy Dress” — the signature blue gingham pinafore dress and puffy-sleeved shirt worn by Judy Garland in her star-making turn as protagonist Dorothy Gale in the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film.

The dress is one of only four known to remain in existence, and one of only two complete versions including the cream organdy high-necked blouse. According to the auction website, this particular version of the costume was worn by Garland throughout the climactic scenes set in the Witch’s Castle, featuring Margaret Hamilton’s legendary performance as the Wicked Witch of the West, including her dramatic death-by-melting. The dress includes a fabric label inscribed “JUDY GARLAND 4223,” which enabled handlers to identify the scenes in which it appears.

“This dress has an incredible history and Bonhams is honored to be a part of its journey,” Helen Hall, director of the Popular Culture department at Bonhams, said in a press statement. “Important costumes from this iconic movie rarely appear on the auction market and to be able to pinpoint the scene in which this was worn by Judy Garland is thrilling.”

A detail of the dress up for auction, which enabled researchers to pinpoint the exact scenes in which it appears (image courtesy Bonhams)

The dress comes to auction by way of the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. The school received the costume as a gift to the clearly beloved former head of its drama department, Reverend Gilbert Hartke, from Mercedes McCambridge, a Hollywood actor and artist-in-residence at the University in 1973. The dress had apparently been missing since the 1980s but was rediscovered in an old shoebox last year, and will now head to the auction block in order to benefit the university’s drama department.

Archival photo of Reverend Gilbert Hartke holding the dress (photo courtesy Catholic University of America)
Archival press photo of Reverend Gilbert Hartke and actor Mercedes McCambridge (photo courtesy Catholic University of America)
An iconic piece of film history (image courtesy Bonhams)

“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 J. Leary-Warsaw, dean of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art, in a statement from Bonhams. 

“While parting with this dress is bittersweet, the proceeds are going to help support future generations training for professional careers in theatre,” Leary-Warsaw continued. “It might just be that the funding helps to prepare the next Mercedes McCambridge or Judy Garland!”

Those interested in seeing the dress can find it on view at Bonhams New York (580 Madison Avenue in Manhattan) from April 23 to 29 and at Bonhams Los Angeles (7601 Sunset Boulevard) from May 20 to 24. But the lucky buyer planning to take the dress home on May 24 is going to have to do more than click their heels. The dress is expected to fetch between $800,000 and $1,200,000 (another version of the dress with the blouse was sold by Bonhams in 2015 for a record price above $1.5 million.) Anyone hoping to get over the rainbow better start searching for a pot of gold!

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Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit —...