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by Fritz Holznagel and Paul Hehn, the editors of Who2.com

In Hollywood a little imperfection can turn a bit player into a sexy standout, but one imperfection dare not speak its name: the missing finger.

Harrison Ford has his chin scar and Marilyn Monroe had her mole, proof that a little imperfection can turn a bit player into a sexy standout.

Yet one imperfection dare not speak its name:  the missing finger. In the world of movies and television, a lost bit of hand must always be just off-camera, clenched in a fist, never ready for its close-up, Mr. DeMille. It may be the last accepted prejudice in Hollywood. There are a handful of actors who've managed to get ahead while hiding damaged digits, though who knows what other stars have managed to keep their abbreviated digits hidden?

Daryl Hannah became a star while missing part of her left index finger. While she rarely talks about the hand, in 2001 she told The Sunday Times of South Africa, "I got my finger stuck in the pulley of a well at my grandmother's house when I was three." Good luck spotting the missing digit in Splash or Kill Bill: it's nearly always hidden behind gloves, coats, guns, or some other convenient prop.

Gary Burghoff won an Emmy as Corporal Walter "Radar" O'Reilly on the wartime sitcom M*A*S*H, undeterred by three deformed fingers on his left hand. Burghoff was a master of the well-placed prop:  during filming the hand was always "missing in action" behind clipboards and radio sets. When all else failed, Burghoff simply stuck his hand in his pocket.

According to the 1996 autobiography Beam Me Up, Scotty, James Doohan landed with Royal Canadian Army troops on the D-Day invasion of France and lost the middle finger of his right hand to German fire. The injury didn't keep him from landing the role of spaceship engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott on the 1960s TV series Star Trek. Avid Trekkies will note that "stunt double" hands were used whenever Doohan operated the ship's transporter.

Silent film superstar Harold Lloyd was the victim of a bizarre accident in 1919, when a supposedly-fake prop bomb went off in his hand, blowing off his right thumb and forefinger. Lloyd's condition was kept secret from the public, and he was fitted with prosthetic digits, which he used in the rest of his films. The phony fingers didn't keep him from doing his own stunts — including, amazingly, dangling from the face of a clock 12 stories up in his famous scene from the 1923 movie Safety Last.

Telly Savalas will be forever remembered as cool TV detective Kojak, though he also took memorable turns as Maggot in The Dirty Dozen and as the nefarious Blofeld in the James Bond flick On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Viewers may recall Kojak's lollipops, but few noticed that Savalas was missing part of his left index finger. According to postings on his family's website, nobody knows exactly how Savalas lost his finger; some say it from was a grenade during World War II, but an older family story is that the finger was chewed by a rat when Telly was a baby.

Savalas is gone now, along with Doohan and Lloyd, and perhaps they're comparing notes in the great Green Room in the Sky:  "Did they ever make you stand at the edge of the frame, waving your hand just offscreen? Yeah, me too." Yet the internet has, curiously, provided new forums for bringing such things out into the open here on Earth, from fan chats to support groups. Telly's finger itself is famous enough to have its own home page:  www.tellysavalasfinger.com. And if the page is just an excuse for a bad visual pun on the classic mouse icon (the classic "hand" cursor with one noticeable missing digit), well, so what? At least it's out in the open. 

In the end, of course, these missing fingers have earned their small part in cinema history — even if, like the Invisible Man, they did so by not being seen at all.

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Articles in this Issue

Disappeared Detroit, by Jeff Byles
Flotsam and Jetsam, by Sarah Maria Gonzales
Their Mud and Bones, by Bill Lambrecht
We Were Here, by Donna L. Clovis
Library Privileges, by Andrew Phillips
Computer Science, by Michael Bywater
Anatomy, by Fritz Holznagel and Paul Hehn
Child Psychology, by Tim W. Jackson
Sportsmanship, by Grant McCrea
Nutrition, by Sharman Apt Russell


FRITZ HOLZNAGEL and PAUL HEHN are the ten-fingered founders and editors of Who2.com, the popular online biographical encyclopedia.