Thomas J. Cottonaro, a local restaurant manager who had been a Hollywood actor and was one of the last remaining Munchkins from the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz," died Wednesday (Feb. 7, 2001) in Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center after a yearlong illness. He was 86.
He was born in Castrogiovanni, Italy, and came to Buffalo as an infant. He graduated from Buffalo Technical High School and Cornell University's food-service school.
He worked in films in Hollywood from 1939 to 1955, beginning in 1939 with "The Wizard of Oz" and in a Tarzan movie as Cheetah, and then worked in the movies "Mazie" and "Lady in the Dark," both in the early 1940s, and in "The Court Jester" in 1955.
Before beginning his acting work, Cottonaro had worked in the early 1930s in Lorenzo's Restaurant and the old Victor Hugo Wine Cellar, both in Buffalo.
He came back to Niagara Falls and worked at the Parkway Inn from 1958 to 1970, starting as a bartender and working his way up to beverage manager. From 1970 to 1981, he managed Harding's Restaurant in Youngstown, until poor health forced his retirement.
Over the years, he also taught seminars for waiters, waitresses and bartenders in the Niagara Falls School District's continuing education program at School 17 and also worked at the Red Coach Inn in Niagara Falls and restaurants in California.
Cottonaro was a fourth-degree member of Niagara Council 241, Knights of Columbus; former vice president of the Food Service Executives of Niagara Falls; a member of the Food Service Executives of Buffalo; and a former member of Mended Hearts.
He is survived by his wife of 45 years, the former M. Elizabeth Billingsley, and two sisters, Mary Manno and Frances Montanti, both of Buffalo.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Mary of the Cataract Catholic Church, 259 Fourth St., after prayers at 9:30 in Spallino-Amigone Funeral Home, 1300 Pine Ave. Burial will be in Mount Calvary Cemetery, Cheektowaga.