Despite the way a “fact” about Marilyn Monroe’s toes is usually worded, the real issue is not whether she had six toes on each foot — she didn’t. The claim, which is traceable to a specific source, is that she was born polydactyl, but with only one extra digit: a sixth toe on her left foot, which was supposedly surgically removed early on in her Hollywood career.
This claim originated with photographer Joseph Jasgur, who in March 1946 (as a favor to a friend who ran a modeling agency) took some test shots of a nineteen-year-old model named Norma Jean Dougherty. Young Norma Jean, of course, would later become one of the twentieth century’s most famous women under the name Marilyn Monroe.
Most of Jasgur’s pictures of a teenaged Marilyn Monroe remained unpublished for over forty years, until he finally assembled them for a book entitled The Birth of Marilyn: The Lost Photographs of Norma Jean. It was only then, four decades after the fact, that Jasgur noticed his photographic work revealed a supposedly previously undisclosed physical feature of the young Marilyn — she had an extra toe on her left foot, as the text of his book explained:
It wasn’t until 41 years later when Joseph Jasgur was alone in his darkroom making prints of that day’s excursion that he noticed something odd about Normal Jean’s left foot. She had six toes. A surprising discovery, he thought, but not earth-shaking. He had heard rumours of plastic surgery on her foot as well as her nose and chin, but he notes, “It’s none of my business.”
Despite Jasgur’s “It’s none of my business” disclaimer, his publisher made the most of the situation, using the picture in a “What’s wrong with this picture?” publicity campaign to promote his book. The photograph was also published in the British tabloid Daily Mirror and was denounced as a hoax by many Marilyn devotees.
So, did she or didn’t she? Here is the relevant portion of the photograph upon which this rumor was based, and a second (less clear) photograph from the same session:
It does look a bit like Marilyn has more than the usual five toes in these pictures, but later photographs clearly show her left foot with only five toes:
The notion that Marilyn was born with an extra digit which was later surgically removed is bunk, and the appearance of a “sixth toe” that Jasgur’s photos show is merely an artifact of the blending of shadows and light and the natural bulge that appears at the base of one’s small toe (where the digit joins the outer edge of the foot) to create something that looked like an extra toe.
Nothing other than those few questionable photographs supported the claim:
- There is no documentation to show that anybody who knew Marilyn when she was young (e.g., her mother, the foster parents and relatives with whom she lived, her first husband) ever mentioned anything about her having been born with an extra toe.
- No other photographs showing a young Marilyn with an extra toe on one foot have come to light.
- There is no explanation for how the young Marilyn Monroe, living hand to mouth and still years away from being a star, was able to afford the surgery required to “correct” this condition.
- There is no record of Marilyn’s having had an operation at that point in her life, and no contemporaneous references to anyone’s noticing her walking with a bandaged foot or a limp for a period of time.
- Nobody who knew Marilyn later in life (e.g., husbands, lovers, friends, doctors, fellow actors and actresses) stated that she confided she had been born with an extra toe which was subsequently removed. This “fact” isn’t mentioned in any known article or biography of Marilyn, even as an unsubstantiated rumor.
In short, the one and only piece of supporting evidence for the “sixth toe” claim was Jasgur’s photograph, which was far from clear. And even Jasgur himself didn’t notice the extra digit, either at the time he took the photographs or after he developed them — he spotted it only (somewhat conveniently) when he had a book coming out. Moreover, other photographs taken by Jasgur at the same time revealed a left foot that looked decidedly normal:
Marilyn Monroe may indeed have been “the girl with something extra,” but the extra something in this case doesn’t appear to have been a toe.