The cult of Judy Garland lives on after 'Oz' dress sells for $480,000

Judy Garland's dress sold at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills for $480,000.
Judy Garland's dress sold at Julien's Auctions in Beverly Hills for $480,000.
Photo courtesy of Julien's Auctions.

More than 40 years after the death of Judy Garland, there's still a powerful mystique surrounding the Minnesota native and anything that she touched.

So much so that last week the blue gingham dress Garland wore in the Wizard of Oz sold for $480,000, trumping items owned by the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen.

"It's an iconic piece," say Darren Julien, owner of Beverly Hills-based Julien's Auctions, which sold the dress. "It's one of those things you look at and you immediately know who wore it and in what movie."

Compare the near-half million shelled out for the Garland dress to what other items fetched: $50,000 for a skirt worn by Marilyn Monroe, $50,000 for Steve McQueen's jacket, and $38,000 for a dress Julie Andrews wore in the Sound of Music.

Though the Wizard of Oz has become a cult film partly because its cinematography was sophisticated in a way that inspires film buffs to refer to it as "before its time," Garland herself also draws a cult following, according to Julien.

"She is iconic," he says. "She died at an early age and at the height of her career, and anything associated with her is always extremely popular."

However, the dress sold this past week at Julien's is not the only blue gingham dress of Garland's in existence, according to John Kelsch, executive director of the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids.

"There are three or four of them out there," Kelsch says. "There were always at least three costumes in case something got spilled or ripped. They've been sold back and forth over the years."

In addition to the three or four dresses used on the set, there were also "test dresses" used for photo shoots, according to Kelsch. The museum owns one such dress.

"Unfortunately, ours doesn't have the original blouse," he says.

But the dresses -- with or without the original blouse -- are not the most valuable of Wizard of Oz paraphernalia, according to Kelsch.

The most valuable is, hands down, the ruby slippers, which were scandalously stolen not too long ago, as detailed by Minnesota Monthly. Second most valuable, Kelsch says, is the carriage that transported Dorothy and her friends into Emerald City. The Judy Garland Museum owns this carriage and, according to Kelsch, it belonged to Abraham Lincoln before it was used in nearly 200 films, including the Wizard of Oz. The third most valuable is the film dress, followed by the test dress.

Kelsch believes these items will only continue to gain in value.

"The film is so much a part of the American experience. It's so embedded in our culture -- the eternal longing for home and the importance of friends," he says. "We have a poster here that says, 'Everything I needed to know, I learned from the Wizard of Oz.' The Wizard of Oz will guarantee Judy's immortality."

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