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A Model of Perfection, From Pinkie to Pointer

Career: Linda Rose has had success in the palm of her hand for decades. Now she's knuckling down to sell her own product.

January 01, 1998|LAURIE DRAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

One of the world's most famous "parts models" is sitting at a conference table in her publicist's office on Wilshire Boulevard. Her face isn't familiar, but her hands are--long and narrow but not small, with peaches-and-cream skin, tapered fingers, long nails and thin wrists.

They've been likened to praying mantises, or the wings of a dove. Those in the business call them "ladies' hands" as opposed to "mommy hands" (smaller and plumper) or "high-fashion hands" (with attenuated digits). They are, in a word, beautiful. Graceful. Hands that beg for diamond rings.

Of course, you already know these hands, having seen them in more mundane circumstances: soaking in Palmolive liquid for Madge the manicurist, walking through the Yellow Pages for AT&T, frosting a cake with Pillsbury icing, dropping a pearl down a bottle of Prell, cracking eggs over a griddle for Burger King.

Born 61 years ago to a mom and dad with ordinary hands, hand supermodel Linda Rose grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. "I was a plain-looking kid with a gorgeous mother, so people were always complimenting me on my hands, probably to compensate," says Rose. But there was no such thing as a hand model back in 1953, when Rose began junior-fashion modeling while studying at Vassar College.

One day she got a call from the people at Lux dishwashing liquid. "They figured if I had good legs, maybe I had good hands," recalls Rose, who was hired to "autograph" Gene Tierney's name across a photo of the actress for Lux Video Theater. On that day, a star was born--and so was a job description.

Since then, Rose's hands have stood in for those of Cybill Shepherd, Candice Bergen, Christina Ferrare, Lauren Hutton, Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, Shelly Hack, Jennifer O'Neill and Florence Henderson in more than 5,000 television and print ads.

Do celebrities object when their own hands are deemed unworthy for the camera? "Most of them do not," says Rose, "because No. 1, I make them look good, and No. 2, time is money--it takes me less time to do the product shot than it takes them. I'm the specialist."

There is some skill involved in hand modeling. Imagine pouring Wesson Oil into a cup without shaking while a director yells, "You're out of focus!" Or guiding a heavy box of Uncle Ben's Rice in a perfect arc before the camera and, like a gymnast, "sticking" your landing without wobbling. Or writing the word "Slow" in Heinz Ketchup while controlling the flow to keep all the letters exactly the same width. Imagine doing all that and getting paid $1,000 a day and . . . whatever sympathy we had turns to envy.

But now these hands are faced with the hardest sell of all: promoting their owner's new beauty cream. Rose, who lives in South Pasadena, semi-retired from modeling about four years ago and is now entering the cosmetics business with a two-part "hand-care system" that, she claims, will do for our hands what she's always done for her own: exfoliate, smooth, soften and protect. "The biggest mistake people make is forgetting how important their hands are," says Rose. "They're the first thing to give away your age, no matter how young your face may look."

The Linda Rose Hand Care System costs $45 for Active Hand Cream (SPF 15) and Protective Hand Gel and is sold at Fred Segal Melrose and Santa Monica; Claridges in Palos Verdes; Neiman Marcus in Newport Beach and San Diego; and Apothia in Brentwood. It can also be ordered by phone at (800) 753-2038.

Beyond using her special products, Rose does not believe in coddling your hands. "Hands are like your body--if you don't use 'em, you lose 'em. I raised two children with these hands," she says, and she still gardens (in gloves, of course).

Surprisingly, her hands have never been insured ("too expensive") and have only rarely been manicured. She learned early on how to paint and repair her own nails--her secret: Revlon's mending kit.

"The most important nails to keep intact are the index and the thumb, because they're the ones closest to the camera as they hold the product," says Rose. In the days of black-and-white TV she wore pale pink polish, since red lacquer photographed black, but for color shoots, she wears red polish because it is "very festive."

There have been injuries, but none serious enough to end her hand modeling career. In 1958, she fractured her right wrist ice skating. Revlon, her employer at the time, waited until she was mended to film a commercial for Love Pat compact makeup.

And then there was the night Rose got home late from a shoot, stood bleary-eyed in the kitchen making her sons' school lunches for the next day and sliced into her right hand. "I showed up at work the next morning," says Rose, "because in this business you show up even if you're vomiting, and I said, 'If you want to get someone to replace me, I'll wait till she comes.' " The director managed to shoot around Rose's cut by using her left hand, which--since it's less developed than her right--is her best side anyway.

Thinking of a career as a hand model? Here's what you need, according to Rose:

1. Nerves of steel, so that you can handle products without jiggling under the watchful gaze of account executives, food stylists, directors and camera operators.

2. Photogenic hands, because even the most comely specimens do not photograph well at certain angles.

3. Distinguishing characteristics, including a long nail bed, so that nails can be filed short and still look good. Hands should be free of veins, scars or freckles, and there should be "no visible knuckles."

4. A sense of humor to endure this sort of social introduction: "Meet Linda Rose, she's a model but she just does hands."

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