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Catholic University insists it’s the owner of Judy Garland’s ‘Wizard of Oz’ dress, not priest’s niece

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A lobby card from the film ‘The Wizard Of Oz,’ shows a film still of a scene in which American actress Judy Garland (1922 – 1969) (as Dorothy) wipes tears from the eyes of actor Bert Lahr (1895 – 1967) (as the Cowardly Lion), while watched by Jack Haley (1898 – 1979) (as the Tin Man) (left), and Ray Bolger (1904 – 1987) (as the Scarecrow), 1939. The film was directed by Victor Fleming.

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The Catholic University of America won’t surrender Dorothy’s dress — without a court fight.

The university insisted in a new statement to CNBC that it — and not the estate of a late priest and drama professor — is the “rightful owner” of a once long-lost dress worn by Judy Garland in the classic film “The Wizard of Oz.”

The Washington, D.C., university also said that a new lawsuit filed by the niece of the Rev. Gilbert Hartke, which aims to block an upcoming auction of the blue-and-white gingham dress, “has no basis in law or fact.”

Gilbert Hartke had been gifted the dress in 1973.

The school’s statement came just as a lawyer for Hartke’s 81-year-old niece asked a federal judge in New York City in a new court filing to issue a temporary injunction that would at least postpone the May 24 auction of the dress on the university’s behalf. The dress is expected to fetch as much as $1 million or more at an auction held by Bonham’s in Los Angeles.

Hartke, as a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Dominican Order, “had taken a vow of poverty,” the school noted in the statement.

“He vowed not to receive or accept any gifts as his own personal property, and at the time of his death did not have any tangible items in his estate,” Catholic University said.

“In fact, an inventory of Fr. Hartke’s estate conducted in 1987 listed nothing of value in personal possessions or any tangible property of any sort, despite other documented gifts to Fr. Hartke for the benefit of Catholic University over the years. 

“Catholic University is the rightful owner of the dress, and Fr. Hartke’s estate does not have a property interest in it,” the school said.

In a court motion filed Friday that seeks a temporary injunction barring the auction, a lawyer for Hartke’s niece, Barbara Ann Hartke, said that the Wisconsin woman will suffer “irreparable injury” if the Bonham’s auction is allowed to proceed before the resolution of her suit claiming ownership of the dress by the estate of her uncle.

“Because plaintiff’s asset is in Defendant’s possession and will be sold to the highest bidding party, plaintiff will effectively lose the ability to reclaim possession of hers and, or the estate’s property once the auction takes place,” Barbara Hartke’s lawyer, Anthony Scordo, also argued in his filing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Scordo also wrote, “There is a strong public interest for the court to enter an injunction here.”

“This property is … important to the American public for reasons that are articulated in the Verified Complaint. The fact that an important part of Americana will not be in the public realm and be lost forever,” Scordo wrote.

The dress is one of only two dresses known to still exist of the several created for Garland to wear in 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz.” The other dress was auctioned in 2015 by Bonham’s for more than $1.5 million.

Judge Paul Gardephe has not yet ruled on the motion seeking a temporary injunction. Neither Bonham’s nor Scordo has responded to requests for comment.

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CNBC revealed earlier this week that Barbara Hartke had sued the university and Bonham’s after she said she only recently learned from press reports that the dress gifted to her uncle was soon going up for auction after having been lost for decades.

The dress was found last July in a trash bag in the university’s drama department.

Catholic University wants to sell the dress to raise money for its drama school, which Gilbert Hartke founded.

The priest was given the dress in 1973 by his friend, the actress Mercedes McCambridge, who credited him with helping her deal with her alcoholism.

Around the time McCambridge gave him the dress, she was acting as the voice of the demon Pazuzu in the horror movie “The Exorcist,” which was filmed in Washington.

She previously had won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1949 for her performance in “All the King’s Men,” and was nominated in the same category for her role in “Giant,” which starred Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson.

Gilbert Hartke himself was a prominent figure in Washington theater who “was very much the man about town,” comfortable at the White House and in D.C.’s power restaurants as he rubbed elbows with the capital city’s political and social elite, The Washington Post noted in his 1986 obituary when he died at age 79.

Hartke also was one of two Catholic priests asked by the widow of President John Kennedy to stay with his body at the White House before his funeral after his 1963 assassination.

But despite his high profile, Hartke as a priest was bound by his vow of poverty, Catholic University noted in its statement Friday stating that the school is the legal owner of the dress.

“Catholic University understands the solemnity of these vows, as did McCambridge and Fr. Hartke at the time of the donation to Catholic University,” the statement said. “Consistent with these vows, the dress was a gift to further Fr. Hartke’s important legacy of building the School of Drama here at Catholic University. 

“The University’s research of contemporaneous sources and the evidence fully demonstrates McCambridge’s intent to donate the dress to support the drama students at Catholic University. The complaint provides no evidence to the contrary.”

The university said that when the dress was discovered last summer, “Catholic University did not reach out to the family of Fr. Hartke because the dress was gifted to Catholic University for the benefit of the students in the Rome School.”

Barbara Hartke’s lawyer Scordo, in his motion seeking to block the auction, argued that delaying the planned sale of the dress until her lawsuit is resolved will not harm Catholic University or Bonham’s financially.

“Entry of an injunction here is warranted and will place no undue burden on the defendants,” Scordo wrote.

“Defendants cannot argue that the delay in auctioning the property will cause
any harm whatsoever given the time that has elapsed since the death of decedent. There is no
indication that the fair market value will experience any real change should the auction be
postponed pending resolution of this litigation.”

But Scordo said Barbara Hartke “will be the party harmed here should this auction not be enjoined.”

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Disney is raising prices, but this time, don’t blame inflation

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Another major American company is raising prices again, but this time, don’t blame inflation.

Disney is increasing the price on its streaming products and signaled that a price hike could be in the works at its theme parks as well. On Wednesday, the company said the price of Disney+ without ads is jumping $3 per month to $10.99 starting Dec. 8. Hulu with ads will increase by $1 per month to $7.99, and Hulu without ads will jump $2 per month to $14.99.

Then on Thursday, Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek indicated to CNBC’s Julia Boorstin that a price increase will likely happen at theme parks as long as people keep coming in droves.

“We read demand. We have no plans right now in terms of what we’re going to do, but we operate with a surgical knife here,” Chapek said. “It’s all up to the consumer. If consumer demand keeps up, we’ll act accordingly. If we see a softening, which we don’t think we’re going to see, then we can act accordingly as well.”

Instead of blaming the rising cost of materials, labor and gas, Disney is rationalizing the increases based on the consistency of the popularity of its products. Disney said Wednesday that Disney+ added 15 million new subscribers last quarter, blowing out expectations. It also said it expects further growth for core Disney+ (excluding India’s Disney+ Hotstar) next quarter beyond the 6 million it added in its fiscal third quarter.

Raising prices on the back of strong demand isn’t new for Disney. The price of theme park tickets has climbed for decades. During its most recent quarter, the company posted a 70% revenue increase in its parks, experiences and products division, rising to close to $7.4 billion. Per capita spending at domestic parks rose 10% and is up more than 40% compared with fiscal 2019.

Handout | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

Disney strategically caps attendance at its parks, an effort that was borne out of the attempts to avoid crowding during the Covid pandemic. The move is a way to improve the customer experience. Additionally, the company has added Genie+ and Lightning Lane products, which curate guest experience and allow parkgoers to bypass lines for major attractions.

Beyond the parks, Disney annually asks cable TV providers to pay aggressive price hikes for ESPN because it knows there’s strong demand for its stable of live sports rights.

Disney+ first launched in November 2019 at $6.99 per month. About three years later, the price of the ad-free product will have risen 57%. The service now has more than 152 million customers.

Chapek has experienced his share of bumps in the road since taking over for Bob Iger as Disney CEO. But one thing hasn’t changed: consumers still seem to enjoy what Disney has to offer.

Correction: During its most recent quarter, the company posted a 70% revenue increase in its parks, experiences and products division, rising to close to $7.4 billion. An earlier version misstated the percentage and mischaracterized the dollar figure.

WATCH: CNBC’s full interview with Disney CEO Bob Chapek

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Disney streaming subscriber growth blows past estimates, as company beats on top and bottom line

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A performer dressed as Mickey Mouse entertains guests during the reopening of the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, U.S., on Friday, April 30, 2021.

Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

If Disney+’s subscriber growth is any indication, the rumors that the global streaming market is nearing saturation have been proven untrue.

On Wednesday, the Walt Disney Company reported that total Disney+ subscriptions rose to 152.1 million during the fiscal third quarter, higher than the 147 million analysts had forecast, according to StreetAccount.

At the end of the fiscal third quarter, Hulu had 46.2 million subscribers and ESPN+ had 22.8 million. Combined, Hulu, ESPN+ and Disney+ have over 221 million streaming subscribers. Netflix, long the leader in the streaming space, had 220 million subscribers, according to the most recent tally.

Disney shares rose more than 6% after the closing bell.

The streaming space has been in a state of upheaval in recent weeks, as Netflix disclosed another drop in subscribers and Warner Bros. Discovery announced a shift in content strategy. While Netflix expects subscriber growth to rebound, uncertainty has left analysts and investors wondering what the future holds for the wider industry.

Also Wednesday, the company unveiled a new pricing structure that incorporates an advertising-supported Disney+ as part of an effort to make its streaming business profitable.

During the fiscal third quarter Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ combined to lose $1.1 billion, reflecting the higher cost of content on the services. Disney’s average revenue per user for Disney+ also decreased by 5% in the quarter in the U.S. and Canada due to more customers taking cheaper multiproduct offerings.

Starting Dec. 8 in the U.S., Disney+ with commercials will be $7.99 per month — currently the price of Disney+ without ads. The price of ad-free Disney+ will rise 38% to $10.99 — a $3 per month increase.

In addition, Disney lowered its 2024 forecast for Disney+ to 215 million to 245 million subscribers, down 15 million on both the low end and high end of the company’s previous guidance.

Disney had previously set its Disney+ guidance in December 2020 at 230 million to 260 million by the end of fiscal 2024. The company reaffirmed its expectation that Disney+ will become profitable by the end of its fiscal 2024 year.

Overall, Disney posted better-than-expected earnings on both the top and bottom line, bolstered by increased spending at its domestic theme parks.

Here are the results:

  • Earnings per share: $1.09 per share vs. 96 cents expected, according to a Refinitiv survey of analysts
  • Revenue: $21.5 billions vs. $20.96 billion expected, according to Refinitiv
  • Disney+ total subscriptions: 152.1 million vs 147.76 million expected, according to StreetAccount

Big quarter for parks

Disney’s parks, experiences and products division saw revenue increase 72% to $7.4 billion during the quarter, up from $4.3 billion during the same period last year. The company said it saw increases in attendance, occupied room nights and cruise ship sailings.

It also touted that its new Genie+ and Lightning Lane products helped boost average per capita ticket revenue during the quarter. These new digital features were introduced to curate guest experience and allow parkgoers to bypass lines for major attractions.

The company said it has been able to bring back in-park experiences such as character meet-and-greets, theatrical performances and nighttime events at Disneyland, which has allowed it to increase capacity at its parks, CEO Bob Chapek said during the company’s earnings call Wednesday. Disney has placed caps on attendance since it reopened after the initial round of pandemic closures in early 2020 and instituted a new online reservation system to control crowds.

“As it relates to demand, we have not yet seen demand abate at all and we still have many days when people cannot get reservations,” Christine McCarthy, Disney’s chief financial officer, said during the company’s earnings call. “So, we’re still seeing demand in excess of the reservations that we are making available for our guests.”

Per capita spending at domestic parks increased 10% during the most recent quarter, compared to the same quarter last year and is more than 40% higher than fiscal 2019, the company said. Occupancy at domestic hotels in the third quarter was 90%.

Chapek pointed to EPCOT’s new Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind, the launch of the Disney Wish and the opening of Avenges Campus in Paris Disneyland as enhanced offerings for guests that have driven traffic and revenue to this division.

McCarthy noted that international visitors to domestic parks have continued to be slow to return. Traditionally, those parkgoers account for around 17% to 20% of total guests.

“We expect international visitation when its fully back to actually be additive to margins, because those guests tend to stay longer at the parks and they spend more money when they’re there, as well,” she said.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. Comcast owns a stake in Hulu.

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Serena Williams announces her retirement from tennis

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Tennis legend Serena Williams announced her retirement in a Vogue article published Tuesday.

“I have never liked the word ‘retirement,'” Williams wrote. “Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is ‘evolution.’ I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”

Williams, who turns 41 next month, has 73 career singles titles, 23 career doubles titles and over $94 million in career winnings.

Williams is widely hailed as one of the greatest athletes of all time. In her Vogue piece, she noted that some of her detractors point out that she hasn’t won the most Grand Slam titles in women’s tennis history, however. 

“There are people who say I’m not the GOAT because I didn’t pass Margaret Court’s record of 24 grand slam titles, which she achieved before the ‘open era’ that began in 1968,” Williams wrote. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record.”

She said she will retire after the U.S. Open, which will run from late August into September. A victory there would tie her with Court’s Grand Slam record.

“I don’t know if I will be ready to win New York. But I’m going to try,” Williams wrote about the tournament, which is played in Queens.

She has counted sponsorships from companies including Nike, Audemars Piguet, Away, Beats, Bumble, Gatorade, Gucci, Lincoln, Michelob, Nintendo, Wilson Sporting Goods, and Procter and Gamble.

“I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair,” Williams wrote. “If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family.”

Williams focused on her family in the announcement, writing that her nearly five-year-old daughter wants to be an older sister. Williams is married to Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian.

“I have to focus on being a mom, my spiritual goals and finally discovering a different, but just exciting Serena. I’m gonna relish these next few weeks,” Williams wrote in an Instagram post Tuesday.

Professionally, she looks to expand Serena Ventures, a small investment firm of six people that was one of the first investors in MasterClass. Her firm raised $111 million in outside financing this year.

Williams wrote that only 2% of venture capital goes to women and that “in order for us to change that, more people who look like me need to be in that position, giving money back to themselves.”

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