A while back, a coworker of mine found a vinyl copy of the first Muppet Show album in the dollar bin at a record store, and knowing of my affinity for Muppets, he bought it for me. Wasn’t that swell of him? Although I was sad to hear that it had been relegated to the dollar bin alongside old disco compilations and John Travolta solo albums, I was happy to own it.
While poring over every inch of the record sleeve, I noticed something that made me do a double take. (I may have actually said, “Hubba wha?”) The back cover features a photo of the main characters outside the Muppet Theater, and… hey, wait a minute. (Click this and all photos in this article to make them bigger.)
Gonzo is barefoot! And… he only has three toes on each foot! Three pointy, claw-like toes! Could this really be what Gonzo’s feet are supposed to look like? Is Gonzo a tri-tarsal?
I knew the record was released during or right after the first season of the show, so I figured there was a pretty good chance this was the first time Gonzo had ever been seen in any kind of full-bodied form that included his feet. But was it the last? I had to know. (Of course, there are other questions we could be asking here, like why is Gonzo not wearing shoes while standing outdoors? What if he steps in gum, or on a bug? But let’s focus on the toe issue for the moment.)
I posted about it on the Tough Pigs forum, home to many smart, knowledgeable, and pleasant-smelling Muppet fans. And I asked the very important question: Have we ever seen Gonzo’s feet anywhere else? Almost immediately, Tough Pigs’ own Scott Hanson found this nutty thing, which comes from sometime in the last few years:
Although Gonzo is barefoot here (because it would be silly to wear shoes while surfing), you can’t really see any toes. In fact, it kind of looks like he doesn’t even have toes at all — just one blue, furry hot dog bun of a foot at the end of each leg. But really, it’s hard to tell from the angle, so maybe this isn’t the best shot to judge by.
But that’s okay, because Scott also found an artist’s depiction of Gonzo’s feet in an old Muppet style guide. I think this is from the 1980s:
That’s better, and he definitely doesn’t appear to have claws like on the record sleeve. But I can only clearly see two toes on each foot here. Again, maybe it’s the angle, but it’s hard to tell for sure whether or not he has any more li’l piggies that we can’t quite see. What’s the deal? It’s almost like Gonzo doesn’t want us to see his feet. He’s usually so shameless… What is he hiding?
Then Tough Pigs’ own Kim McFarland recalled a recent video from the Muppets’ website in which Gonzo demonstrates how to raise one’s consciousness via helium-filled underpants. As he floats out of the frame, his feet are briefly visible, and after watching the video about 30 times I was able to confirm with certainty that he does, in fact, have three toes on each foot. Here’s the best I could do for a freeze-frame:
Okay, so Gonzo has three toes, like a three-toed sloth. Or like… three one-toed sloths? It actually makes sense — as much sense as anything in a discussion like this could make — when you consider that he has three fingers on each hand. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder why it had been so difficult to track down the answer. Then I figured it out.
The Muppet Show record cover is the earliest existing photo of Gonzo’s feet, taken right before he became a huge TV star, and it shows him with long, splayed-out toes, but all the evidence after that shows much more normal-looking toes. I think it’s pretty obvious that when the show became an international hit, Gonzo felt the same pressure that affects so many newly-minted celebrities: the pressure to perfect one’s physical appearance. Between seasons one and two of The Muppet Show, he used his earnings from the show to undergo cosmetic surgery to make his toes smaller and to move them closer together. Apparently this also made it easier to shop for shoes… As Tough Pigs’ own Joe Hennes pointed out, Gonzo’s shoes (seen here on his Palisades action figure) are pretty small.
Such an involved surgical procedure probably left some unsightly scars, which explains why it’s so hard to find a good photo of his post-op feet. Even on those rare occasions when they’re visible on-camera, as in this moment from the Teresa Brewer episode recalled by Tough Pigs’ own Jogchem Jalink, the camera stays pretty far back, so you can’t make out any distinguishing marks.
Later I realized just what lengths Gonzo’s gone to to hide the truth about his feet. Here’s a publicity shot of Baby Gonzo:
His toes are normal! Not only did Gonzo get corrective surgery, he actually had his baby pictures retouched to erase the evidence of his old toes. Of course, by that time, the Muppet Show record had already sold thousands of copies, so it was too late to do anything about that picture, but still — he was so fully committed to covering up the embarrassing truth about his toes that he would do almost anything to prevent the public from seeing what they really looked like.
It doesn’t explain why he never did anything about his nose, though.
Thanks to the gang at the Tough Pigs forum for their research and theories! Speaking of which, click here to toe the line on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com