The blouse is yellowed, but all the trademarks of the MGM dresses are there.
The Wizard of Oz has long been the favorite movie for generations of both children and adults. From the premiere of the film in vivid color in 1939 until now it has remained a visual delight and a cultural touchstone as the story captures something really special about believing in yourself and following your heart. The main character of Dorothy was played by the unforgettable Judy Garland, whose voice in “Over the Rainbow” carried both the innocence and weight of growing up. Artifacts original to the production of the film are sparse since it was not common practice at the time to save set pieces and costumes on a regular basis. But, now one of Dorothy’s blue checked dresses used for the film has been uncovered after being lost for many years.
Over the decades there were lots of rumors at Catholic University in the drama department that somewhere a dress worn by Judy Garland for the film was lurking in the archives. But, after searching for years the current operations coordinator and lecturer for the drama department, Matt Ripa, had never found the dress.
Then he found a garbage bag on top of the department mail slots and inside it the bag was a box. Inside the box was the dress with a note “I found this” from a now-retired professor, Thomas Donahue, who had found the dress and left it for Ripa before leaving the school. From there the bag had been placed on top of the mail shelves to make room for more mail. In effect the dress was lost twice, once when it was put away decades ago and another time when it was mistakenly placed out of reach on the shelves.
The dress is the familiar blue checked dress that Garland wears throughout the film with a white blouse underneath. Multiples of the items worn in the film were created as prototypes, but also for the actors to wear since they can develop damage throughout the filming. Several different versions of the dress were produced in variations of solid blue, gingham, and dots for screen tests and for early in filming, but ultimately the gingham pinafore dress was chosen instead.
In the case of the checkered Dorothy dress multiples were needed during filming since the delicate fabric was prone to ripping when Garland changed out of her costume each night.
So far 5 other Dorothy dresses have been verified by the Smithsonian Institute and have distinctive attributes like the repairs to the fabric and the handwritten inscription in each dress to mark who the dress was made for. Staff at Catholic University archives are not authorized to authenticate the dress, but it does share the repairs and the writing like the other dresses do. Like the extant MGM Dorothy dresses the recently discovered frock also features a “secret” pocket where the handkerchief that Garland used to wipe away the Cowardly Lion’s tears was kept.
The Dorothy dress in the archives of Catholic University was donated to the drama department by actress, Mercedes McCambridge, who worked in radio before appearing in All the King’s Men (1949) and Giant (1956). At the time she donated the dress Garland was already deceased, but since the two actresses were of similar ages and both worked in entertainment it is thought that they were friends.
In terms of value another of the Dorothy dresses from The Wizard of Oz went up for auction back in 2015 and at that time fetched $1.56M, exceeding the pre-auction estimate maximum of $1.2M.