Art Metrano: The Man With the Magic Fingers

A nod to comedian and comic actor Art Metrano (1936-2021).

Metrano’s signature bit is better known than either his name or any of his roles. It has woven its way into folk culture. As kids we used to imitate it after seeing it on television…sort of everybody did. It was kind of a hilarious take-down of corny show business culture then still in vogue (the 1970s), not worlds away from the stuff that was on The Gong Show, or was being done by the Unknown Comic, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman. Humming his own show bizzy soundtrack to the tune of “Fine and Dandy”, Metrano would come out on TV variety shows in a Vegassy tuxedo and do a routine of such minimal impressiveness yet with such cheer and confidence, that you laughed at his cajones in daring to do it front of national audiences. It was the sort of act a toddler might do in the living room, with exactly same sort of exuberance the toddler might bring to it. (Basically it was a breezy “magic trick” where he made his fingers appear, disappear, jump from hand to hand, etc). There’s a version on Youtube, but I won’t link to it. I’ve learned not to link to Youtube clips anymore the hard way. Metrano did this act on The Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and many many others. He got lots of positive reinforcement for it.

with Steve Guttenberg in “Police Academy 2”

Metrano’s taking THAT act THAT far would have been impressive enough, but he also racked up a TON of proper acting credits, ranging from bit parts (on shows like Bewitched) to bigger ones. He had a recurring role on The Chicago Teddy Bears (1971), two episodes of Love American Style, five episodes of Ironside, the “Chopper” episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1975), a recurring role on Baretta (1975-77), a recurring role on Movin’ On (1975-76), a regular role on the short-lived sitcom Loves Me, Loves Me Not (1977). He played Leonardo Da Vinci in Mel Brooks’ The History of the World, Part One (1981); had a recurring role on Joanie Loves Chachi (1982-83); played “Mauser” in the Police Academy movies (1985-86); and was a third-billed regular role in the short-lived sitcom Tough Cookies (1986). And numerous other credits through 2001. Dozens and dozens, more than I’d ever be able to list here.

My old buddy the Art Star David Jenness whom I used to perform with a lot back in my Surf Reality days wrote me a few month back with some insider scoop on the Art Metrano phenomenon. I now turn you over to him:

We all grew up with Art Metrano on the television with his stupid – Da da da da song and the Finger Routine.  But the beauty is that every one of my friends and I mastered the act and used to crack each other up. Ten years pass and I move to NYC in 1978 and I meet and fall in love with a brainy beauty, 12 years older than I, who becomes my first wife. She was funny – in Second City for a bit with Alan Arkin, on Broadway for a minute and a half with James Earl Jones in a Cuban version of Julius Caesar, but to me, but the real fascinating part of her history is she used to hang at the Stage Deli with all the comics – the same guys from Broadway Danny Rose. Her best friend dated Jackie Mason – oy!  And who did my first wife date?  Art Metrano.  Well, she didn’t just date him, she married him (lasted 6 months apparently). Neither of them were ready – she was 24 and getting away from mommy and daddy…. But she was there at the birth of the Finger Routine and all the success he received with that. And guess who actually wrote it for him? Joe Bologna!  Before he hooked up with Renee [Taylor], he was a struggling comedy writer. I thought that was pretty cool. In the ’80s, [my ex-wife] and I wrote together – and one of our specialties was celebrity profiles for Parade Magazine and the ladies magazines and we got to interview Mel Brooks – around the time of History of the World Part 1 – which Art Metrano had a small part in.  When Mel found out that she had been married to Art, he loved it – he picked her up and carried her around the Hotel Suite (it was a very Mel Brooks moment).  He also said over and over, “You poor, poor girl!”