The Peculiar Truth about the Oscars Streaker
- During the 1974 Academy Awards show, just as British actor David Niven was about to introduce Elizabeth Taylor, a mustachioed man ran naked across the stage. He briefly appeared on camera during the live telecast.
- He flashed a two-finger peace sign as he dashed behind Niven.
- The audience gasped and laughed. Niven, unflappable and witty, stated that “the only laugh that man will ever get is for stripping and showing off his shortcomings.”
- Streaking was an odd and short-lived cultural phenomenon of the 1970s. Whether as protest or just to seek attention, men and women disrobed and ran nude in public.
- Streakers disrupted a rugby match in England, a college event in Texas, and a cricket game in Twickenham.
- The man who ran naked during the Oscars was Robert Opel.
- Raised in Pittsburgh, he moved west to California in the late 60s. He grew his hair long and became part of the Los Angeles hippie scene.
- Opel then wrote speeches for California Governor Ronald Reagan, an odd career choice given Reagan’s harangues against hippies.
- He then got work as a freelance photographer for The Advocate, a newly-created magazine for the LGBTQ community.
- The Oscars telecast wasn’t Opel’s first naked escapade. In an act of political theater to protest a ban on nude beaches, he stripped down at a city council meeting.
- Opel used his magazine photographer’s credentials to get backstage at the Academy Awards. Despite appearing in a blue jump suit, he got past security. Then he hid behind scenery waiting for the most opportune moment to pull off his stunt.
- After running naked across the stage, no one confronted Opel. He was never arrested. Instead, show personnel provided him with clothes, and then he appeared backstage before the press who interviewed him as if he were another Hollywood celebrity.
- His appearance on television lasted only a few brief seconds, yet that was enough to provide him undue fame.
- Opel then was booked on the Mike Douglas Show, and a Hollywood producer hired him to streak naked during a private party for dancer Rudolf Nureyev.
- Opel later moved to San Francisco where he opened an art gallery. Fey-Way Studios featured gay artists, including the first public showing of the works of Robert Mapplethorpe.
- Opel spent the rest of his short life advocating for gay rights.
- In 1979, two gunmen entered the gallery threatening him. Opel owed them money for drugs. They shot and killed him. The murderers were arrested and are serving life sentences.
- Opel’s nephew made a 2010 film documentary about him called Uncle Bob.
Dan is the author of over a dozen novels. His latest is Tight Five.