David Niven Presents an Oscar and Gets Interrupted by a Streaker (1974)

While Acad­e­my Awards will no doubt have its share of dra­ma and sur­pris­es tonight, there will like­ly be few inci­dents of pub­lic nudi­ty. That wasn’t always the case with the Oscars.

Back in 1974, co-host David Niv­en was about to intro­duce Eliz­a­beth Tay­lor when a long-haired, mus­tached nude man sprint­ed out on stage and flashed a peace sign (among oth­er things) before a shocked audi­ence. He jogged from one side of the stage to the oth­er before slip­ping off into the wings, as Hen­ry Manci­ni cued his orches­tra to start play­ing music.

After he regained his com­po­sure, Niv­en quipped, “Well, ladies and gen­tle­men, that was almost bound to hap­pen… But isn’t it fas­ci­nat­ing to think that prob­a­bly the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by strip­ping off and show­ing his short­com­ings?”

Right from the begin­ning, how­ev­er, some won­dered if the inci­dent wasn’t in fact planned by pro­duc­ers hop­ing to give the audi­ence a jolt. Instead of arrest­ing the streak­er (and cart­ing him direct­ly to a Super Max prison, as would hap­pen today), he was giv­en a press con­fer­ence.

At the press con­fer­ence, he said that his name was Robert Opel and false­ly described him­self as an “adver­tis­ing exec­u­tive” dur­ing the press con­fer­ence. When asked why he did the deed, Opel respond­ed, “You know, peo­ple should­n’t be ashamed of being nude in pub­lic. Besides — it is a hell of a way to launch a career.”

The inci­dent did turn Opel briefly into a celebri­ty. He appeared (clothed) on the Mike Dou­glas Show and he was even hired to repeat the stunt at a par­ty for Rudolph Nureyev and Mar­vin Ham­lisch.

Though he was des­tined to go down in his­to­ry as the naked Oscar guy, he was also an avant-garde artist and a leader in the nascent gay rights move­ment. After his brush with fame, Opel moved to the Bay Area where he found­ed Fey-Wey Stu­dios, which was one of the first art gal­leries to show­case artists like Robert Map­plethor­pe and Tom of Fin­land. He also staged an Ani­ta Bryant look-alike con­test at the height of the for­mer beau­ty queen’s anti-gay pub­lic cam­paign. He was mur­dered in his gallery in 1979 dur­ing a bun­gled rob­bery.

Bay Area artist and pho­tog­ra­ph­er BIRON, who was friends with Opel dur­ing his San Fran­cis­co days, remem­bered him fond­ly. “Uncom­pro­mis­ing and unapolo­getic, he blurred the lines between art and life as he trav­eled beyond the con­fines of accept­ed behav­ior. Har­vey Milk and then Robert Opel both killed with­in a few months.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Spiel­berg Reacts to the 1975 Oscar Nom­i­na­tions: ‘Com­mer­cial Back­lash!’

33 Free Oscar Win­ning Films Avail­able on the Web

80 Years of Acad­e­my Award Win­ning Films in Posters

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.


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  • Jose Ortiz, Jr says:

    Well, this guy Opel was on his own to be naked. And was some ‘artist’ & ‘social activist’. But for­got some­thing: he was the sort of guy who will also attract unsa­vory indi­vid­u­als, beside his kind. And paid with his life. Trag­ic.

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