Best Oscar Moment Ever: The Streaker

Sunday, February 24, 2008
On a day when Tinsletown rolls out the red carpet to honor "their best" (and I use that expression loosely, since not all of the best get honored) it only seems fitting to remember a man who thumbed his nose - in a matter of speaking - at this annual spectacle that is the Academy Awards. I'm talking about the guy who streaked the 1974 Oscars.

He was Robert Opal (sometimes spelled Opel), a 33 year-old freelance photographer and gay rights activist who finagled his way backstage at the 46th annual Academy Awards and hid behind a piece of scenery before jogging across the stage just as host David Niven was talking about "an important contributor to entertainment." Unfazed and never missing a beat, the incident prompted the very British Niven to quip, "I's think that the biggest laugh that man will ever get in his life is by showing off his shortcomings."

Streaking, or the act of running through a public area naked, was becoming a popular fad in 1973 and 1974, emerging in college campuses before making its way to more populated arenas. One of the reasons it fell out of of favor was not so much the nudity apect as the fact that it was occuring so much that it lost its shock value. Opal was no novice by the time he made his Oscars debut, having streaked at Los Angeles City Council meetings. Many people thought that his Oscar appearance was staged, and instead of being tackled by security Opal actually enjoyed a press conference while the ceremonies were still taking place, and later became a minor celebrity, making an appearance on the Mike Douglas Show.

But Opal's fifteen minutes of fame lasted precisely that long. He was murdered in 1979 in an art gallery by a pair of drug dealers he owned a lot of money to.

Still, many Academy members and actors recall the moment fondly, as in this video clip on YouTube.

For a more detailed account of Opal's life - the best I found on the Web, check out this posting on the WFMU blog.

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