A priest fond of theater and fan of costumes; a successful supporting actress in the fifties, and a famous dress missing in action. Those are the ingredients of the novel being written these days by the Catholic University of America, in Washington, and which the whole world echoes due to the surprise it has generated. Because in this private center of the capital of the United States with 130 years of history, after more than four decades lost, the costume that Judy Garland wore in the film has appeared The Wizard of Oz.
The history of the famous missing and rediscovered garment begins in the seventies, with the figure of Father Gilbert Hartke, one of the priests of the educational center. Hartke, a Dominican, became one of the most popular figures in the university from the 1930s, when he founded the department of Theater and Declamation, through which future stars such as Susan Sarandon or Jon Voight passed and were formed. He created it in 1937 and managed it for 37 years, and his efforts made it possible for him to also remove the works from the faculty and bring them closer to the city, turning Washington into a town with a great fondness for dramaturgy. A series of achievements that made the theater hall of the university center bear his name today, a relationship that they collect the university files.
In those decades, between the 1930s and 1970s, Father Hartke met a multitude of young promises and established stars. Many of them, who appreciated him, gave him curious objects and especially clothes, costumes that he collected, which he was a great fan of and that actors sometimes wore in their plays. Shoes, aviator scarves, Indian-style vests or a large Russian fur hat were among his favorites.
And this is where Mercedes McCambridge comes in. His name today is remembered only by the very cinephiles, but in the fifties he was one of the most important secondary of the golden Hollywood. She participated in about 60 series and films and was nominated for two Oscars: for The politician, in 1950, he managed to win; and by Giant in 1957. Plus, she was a great bender, and voiced the devil of The Exorcist. McCambridge studied at the Catholic and became good friends with the priest Hartke. She gave him various objects and clothes …, and all indications point to her, a great friend of Judy Garland, who gave the priest the dress that Garland wore in The Wizard of Oz, the classic from 1939.
McCambridge did a residency in the center in the years 1972 and 1973, and it was then that it is suspected that he gave the dress to Hartke, although that step is not confirmed. The suit was missing since then. It had been searched in archives, changing rooms, warehouses, but nothing. In fact, in the center it was believed that its existence was an urban legend protected by the figure of the good-natured father Hartke (who died in 1986). Until, in mid-June of this year, the theater department’s operations coordinator, Matt Ripa, began to organize his office. The center undertakes improvement works and had to be vacated. He himself has told a university publication. “I noticed that there was a garbage bag on the faculty mailboxes and I asked my colleague to help me reach it. On the bag was a note from our former president stating that he had found ‘this’ in his office and that he should have moved it when he left office. I was curious what it contained and opened the garbage bag; Inside was a shoe box, and inside it was the dress! ”says Ripa, surprised.
“I couldn’t believe it,” confesses Ripa in the university newsletter. “My colleague and I quickly grabbed some gloves, examined the dress, and snapped some photos before putting it back in the box and heading to the archives,” she says. He explains that he called some of the directors of the faculty and a former president who always swore and perjured that the dress existed and that it had to remain there. “It goes without saying that I have discovered many interesting things about Father Hartke these years in college, but this one wins them all,” acknowledges Ripa.
After that, from the campus they took the garment to experts at the Smithsonian Museum, which already has some objects from the film, such as a pair of Dorothy’s ruby shoes in the film, and there experts in The Wizard of Oz confirmed its authenticity. Apparently there are five other dresses created for Garland, and all of them have similar details, such as a kind of secret pocket on the right of the skirt for the actress to keep a handkerchief, some wear on the blouse in the area of the straps or the name “Judy Garland” handwritten. The existence of the dress at that university was real. And 40 years stored in a shoe box and garbage bag have only helped add to its legend.