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Catholic University Lecturer Makes Huge 'Wizard Of Oz' Find

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE WIZARD OF OZ")

JUDY GARLAND: (As Dorothy) But anyway, Toto, we're home - home. And this is my room. And you're all here. And I'm not going to leave here ever, ever again because I love you all.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Ah, but where did Dorothy's blue gingham dress wind up? Not in Kansas anymore. One of the dresses Judy Garland wore on set in "The Wizard Of Oz" may have been found recently in a shoebox, maybe next to sheet music from BJ Leiderman, who writes our theme music. Matt Ripa, a lecturer in the drama department at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., found a familiar-looking dress, at any rate, and joins us. Thanks so much for being with us.

MATT RIPA: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: So what happened? You opened a shoebox, and...

RIPA: And there was the dress. I was cleaning out my office with a colleague, and I noticed a bag on top of a shelf. And I had him pick up the bag, and we looked inside and saw this shoebox. And inside of the shoebox, there it was, all folded up. As soon as I saw the pattern, I knew exactly what it was 'cause I had heard stories about this dress existing at the university. And, yeah, we finally found it.

SIMON: Well, tell us about those stories because you have reason to think this is not just some errant blue dress, right?

RIPA: That is correct. So Father Gilbert Hartke, who started the drama program at Catholic University in 1937, you know, he was known as the showbiz priest.

SIMON: Yep.

RIPA: His friends were a who's who of Hollywood. And one of those friends was Mercedes McCambridge, who in the '70s was an artist-in-residence at the university.

SIMON: Yeah.

RIPA: And she was friends with Father Hartke. And she gifted him this dress, and he kept it in his office. He showed it off to anyone who would come visit. So we knew it existed. We knew he had gotten it as a gift. And the exact whereabouts were a bit of a mystery over the past few years.

SIMON: We should explain Mercedes McCambridge was a great actress...

RIPA: Correct.

SIMON: ...In her own right - Oscar-winner Mercedes McCambridge - and also (laughter) the voice of the devil in "The Exorcist," who...

RIPA: Yes, that is true.

SIMON: ...Utters the most profane line of that movie, as a matter of fact.

RIPA: That is true.

SIMON: And she was a good friend of Judy Garland's, right?

RIPA: From what we think, yes. They were definitely contemporaries of one another. That is still one of the mysteries left to be solved is how Mercedes McCambridge came upon the dress and got the dress in her possession. We still don't know the answer to that mystery, but we know how Father Hartke got it.

SIMON: Without hiring Philip Marlowe, how do you track down...

RIPA: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...What - who is no longer available - how do you track down, you know, the real provenance of this dress?

RIPA: Right. So when I found the dress, I obviously took it out of the box with some gloves and took some pictures for my personal Instagram and my personal collection. And then I took the dress over to University Archives. And they have reached out to folks at the American History Museum, the Smithsonian, and they had some experts come and look at the dress and examine it. And the Smithsonian doesn't authenticate, but they said there's strong evidentiary support for our dress being the sixth known dress from "The Wizard Of Oz." It measures to Judy Garland's measurements. It has a hidden pocket on the side where she was known to have her handkerchief, and all the other known dresses have that pocket. It has her name handwritten in the tag of the dress in the same handwriting of the other dresses and of the person at MGM who did all of the writing on the tags. And there's also some tears on the shoulders of the blouse. They said that that actually was indicative of - she was known to rip off the blouse when they would call cut because it was so hot. And that area was a weak area, and so the costume seamstress had to often resew that part of the dress.

SIMON: It's also possible that the Wicked Witch of the West put tears in that dress, right? I mean...

RIPA: That (laughter)...

SIMON: ...That would be my guess.

RIPA: Right.

SIMON: Margaret Hamilton, right?

RIPA: Right.

SIMON: That would be - are you going to display the dress? What's on your mind?

RIPA: So, you know, that's up to the university and the archivist. Currently, the dress is being stored in a temperature- and climate-controlled and secure space at the university within our archives. And then the university will make a decision of what to do. So hopefully, more people who want to see the dress can see the dress.

SIMON: Matt Ripa is a lecturer at the Catholic University of America. Thank you so much for being with us, Mr. Ripa.

RIPA: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OVER THE RAINBOW")

GARLAND: (Singing) Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high...

SIMON: Oh, Judy, Judy, Judy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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