May 04, 1981 12:00 PM

Linda Rose is almost certainly America’s most-seen manual laborer. As a Madison Avenue hand model, she has played, for example, the hands of both Madge the Manicurist (Jan Miner) and her customer on the Palmolive liquid commercial. Linda’s nimble fingers have over the years also spread Pills-bury icing with a paper knife (“my toughest job”) and written the word “slow” clearly with Heinz ketchup (“my finest hour”). Her most dexterous starring role came when she was chosen to let her fingers do the walking through the Yellow Pages. The commercial was so successful, in fact, that AT&T wanted to do a sequel with “marching” fingers. Linda and another woman were hired to strut in time to the theme from The Bridge on the River Kwai, but when shooting began, the other model developed a “limp” and the concept was scrapped.

Linda’s digits have doubled for those of superstars like Lauren Hutton (RevIon), Farrah Fawcett (Fabergé) and Patricia Neal (Maxim). “I’ve sat on a stool and stroked a man’s face while a great beauty nuzzled her cheek next to his,” she says. “Talk about feeling like a fifth wheel.” It’s not that these actresses have ugly hands, Linda adds diplomatically. “But this work requires steadiness and accuracy, and the hands are the first place nervousness shows. Shaking two tablets from a bottle so they fall with the trademark facing the camera is no snap,” she notes. “A hand expert can get it done much faster.”

There are, of course, indignities, as when the cat urinated on her while she was shooting a Revlon spot, but mostly, she says, her work is “fun, creative and very rewarding.” Very. She earns double scale, or $500 per day for each TV commercial and $125 an hour for print ads. She does not, however, get residuals, except when her face also shows, as it did on a recent pitch for Schlitz. But it has not exactly been a hand-to-mouth life, as she chronicles in her new book, Hands (Simon and Schuster, $14.95), a guide to staying young and lovely below the wrists. Linda is 44.

The only child of a toy manufacturer father and an actress turned housewife, Linda grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y. She got her first big modeling job at age 17 while a student at Vassar. “It was a Lux commercial,” she recalls, “and I had to sub as Gene Tierney’s hands autographing her picture. Since I was going to college, they figured I could probably write.”

Soon she was working for Revlon in the early days of TV shooting ads live (“You had to have nerves of steel”), and later appeared full-figure. “I did a lot of work as a housewife,” she says. “I looked like a woman you could trust your laundry with. In fact, at 27 I was a dead ringer for a dowager.” Linda, in fact, divorced the salesman she married at 21 after 13 years, but she wears a wedding ring for many commercials. “Even if you’re only pouring coffee for a guy on TV,” she explains, “you’d better be married doing it.” She has two sons, both now at college—Peter, 21, at Syracuse University, and Danny, 20, at Boston University. Linda lived with an actor for 3½ years but is now between men.

An avid cook and gardener, she has learned how to indulge these passions and still keep her hands in camera-ready condition. “I believe in exercising all of me,” she says, “including my hands. I don’t sit in the sun endlessly, but when I do I always wear a sunblock. And if I want to work in the garden,” she adds, “I pass my nails over a bar of soap first so I won’t get dirt under them.” To prevent dryness, Linda suggests rubbing hands with olive oil, then wearing gloves. “But don’t keep it on for more than 30 minutes,” she warns. “It can weaken the nails.” As for “liver spots,” which are actually brought on by aging and exposure to the sun, Linda suggests they can often be faded with a homemade paste of salt and lemon juice.

On the job Linda carries a survival kit containing Krazy Glue to mend splits and breaks and baby-pink polish. “This is the color models wear all the time,” she notes, “unless it’s a nail polish commercial.”

In a profession where recognition of faces is the primary measure of success, Linda concedes being a hand model “is not the ego boost of all time. I used to walk onto a TV set,” she claims, “announce, ‘I’m the hand model,’ and some guy says, ‘Gee, Linda, you’re not such a dog!’ I used to ask myself,” she muses, ” ‘What’s wrong with the rest of me?’ ”

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