‘Wizard of Oz’ Child Actress and Reporter Betty Ann Bruno Dead at 91

Betty Ann Bruno, a former child actress who played a munchkin in the 1939 classic “The Wizard Of Oz before becoming a successful investigative reporter, has died.

She was 91 years old.

The 5-foot-2-inch California resident was reportedly one of the last living actors to portray one of the diminutive lollipop-licking inhabitants of the fictitious realm of Munchkinland that Dorothy (Judy Garland) visits after arriving in Oz.

In fact, Bruno balked after fellow actor Jerry Maren passed away at age 98 in 2018 — and the media reported that the the world lost its “last living ‘Wizard of Oz’ munchkin” (he was the last munchkin played by a little person).

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a munchkin and I’m still alive!’” she told The Post after hearing the news.

Bruno’s husband Craig Sheiner confirmed the star’s passing this week in a Facebook post, writing: “I am so sorry to have to tell you Betty Ann’s heart left us today.”

According to the post, she had just finished dancing the hula at an event in her hometown of Sonoma, California, whereupon she “developed a sudden, splitting headache.” Bruno’s husband subsequently drove her to the hospital, where she made it to the front desk before collapsing on the floor with a “massive heart attack,” per the statement.

“We were together 46 years. I am devastated,” Sheiner lamented in the Facebook post.

Betty Ann Bruno peeks over Judy Garland's shoulder in this photograph from the set of "The Wizard of Oz."
Betty Ann Bruno peeks over Judy Garland’s shoulder in this photograph from the set of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Born Betty Ann Ka’ihilani on October 1, 1931, in Wahiawa, Hawaii, the ex-thespian grew up in Los Angeles across the street from the 20th Century Fox studio lot, Deadline reported.

She made her big screen debut as an uncredited extra in John Ford’s 1937 film “The Hurricane.”

Bruno hit the “big time” (figuratively speaking) after she was cast in Victor Fleming’s iconic film “Wizard of Oz,” in which she portrayed a Munchkin alongside 12 other children of average height as well as 100 adult little people.

“When we walked onto the set, I had the same reaction that Dorothy has in the movie,” said Bruno while describing the start of her three-week gig.

At the time, “It was the Depression. There was no Disneyland then, so to walk out onto the set and see those bright colors was like being transported to heaven.”

From left to right: Munchkins Betty Ann Bruno, 77, Priscilla Clark, 79 and Ardith Todd, 78, pose in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in 2008.
From left to right: Munchkins Betty Ann Bruno, 77, Priscilla Clark, 79, and Ardith Todd, 78, pose in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in 2008.

Unfortunately, Bruno and the other Munchkins were reportedly given short shrift on set with the Hawaiian describing: “We were always in the background. They didn’t want to see children’s faces but they wanted our little bodies.”

A huge fan of Judy Garland, the Lollipop Guild member recalled knocking on the star’s trailer every day, hoping to get a signed photo.

Each time, Garland would tell her fan that she didn’t have any photos but to come back the next day. Eventually, she had to settle for an autograph without the picture.

Bruno detailed her and the other munchkins’ experiences on set in her 2020 book “The Munchkin Diary.”

The aspiring star’s Tinseltown career got cut short soon after when her family left Los Angeles and moved to the countryside.

After leaving Hollywood behind, Bruno eventually became a political talk show producer before joining KTVU in 1971 as an investigative journalist, reporting on political and social issues, KTVU reported.

The journo was perhaps most noteworthy for her five-part series on local prostitution problems as well as her coverage of the 1991 Oakland Hills fire, a disaster in which she lost her own home.

She also earned several accolades for her reporting, most notably three News Emmys from the San Francisco/Northern California Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, as well as the adulation of fellow journalists.

“Other reporters would try to get those same people they would say ‘no, no, no way.’ Betty Ann was always able to get the interview,” said retired reporter Rob Roth in an interview describing her storied career. “She really did care about the community, cared about reporting, she was just a real treasure, a joy to know.”

After 20 years at the TV station, the decorated reporter retired and moved to Sonoma, where she taught hula dancing, earning the moniker “The Hula Lady.”

Bruno is survived by her husband Craig, an ex-KTVU cameraman, as well as her three sons.

Original Article

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