Betty Ann Bruno, who as a child played a munchkin in the 1939 classic The Wizard Of Oz and went on to become a TV producer and longtime reporter in the San Francisco Bay area, died Sunday in Sonoma, CA, her family said. She was 91. No cause of death was given.
Born Betty Ann Ka’ihilani in 1931, Bruno was 7 when she was cast with about a dozen other children of average height as Munchkins opposite the 100-plus adult little people who played the denizens of Munchkinland. Victor Fleming’s beloved film starring Judy Garland was nominated for five Oscars including Best Picture and won for Best Song (“Over the Rainbow”) and Best Score.
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Among only a handful of surviving Munchkin actors, Bruno published a book called The Munchkin Diaries: My Personal Yellow Brick Road in 2020.
Bruno had no other screen credits until 2021, when she got a call to be a contestant on venerable game show To Tell the Truth. The episode aired in May 2002, and she discussed that appearance in a feature last year in The Sonoma Index-Tribune.
But in the meantime, Bruno had a long and successful career in local television, first as a political talk show producer and then as an on-air investigative reporter for KTVU in the Bay Area. She spent about a quarter-century with the station, becoming a familiar face to its viewers. Among the major stories she covered was the horrible 1991 Oakland Hills firestorm that killed 25 people and destroyed more than 3,200 homes — including hers.
She won three News Emmys from the San Francisco/Northern California Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, according to her family.
“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,” retired KTVU reporter Rob Roth said in an interview with the station. “She really did care about the community, cared about reporting, she was just a real treasure, a joy to know.”
After retiring from the station, she devoted herself to teaching hula dancing, earning the nickname “The Hula Lady.” Founder of the dance troupe Hula Mai — which is Hawai’ian for “come and dance” — she was named Sonoma Treasure Artist in 2020. In the Cultural and Fine Arts Commission’s announcement of her honor, it said she hosted a monthly jam session, or Kanikapilas, at the Women’s Club, where everyone was invited to sing, play the ukulele, and dance hula. The troupe also put on free shows at local hospitals and care facilities. Watch a KTVU feature about her and Hula Mai below.
Bruno is survived by her husband Craig, a former KTVU photographer, and her three sons.
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