In 1974, the 46th Academy Awards ceremony aired with host David Niven. Elizabeth Taylor was a presenter. While the show was fairly ordinary in most ways, there was one unplanned event that occurred during the live broadcast and caught the world by storm. A streaker took the stage during the ceremony, and subsequently became a celebrity for his activism. Years later, that same streaker was murdered in an unrelated incident. Join Facts Verse as we explore the tragic murder of Robert Opel, the Oscars Streaker of 1974.
Although the 1974 Academy Awards ceremony was typical in many ways, there was an unexpected event that occurred during it that caught the world by storm. It was the 46th broadcast of the Oscar ceremony, and host David Niven was just about to introduce presenter Elizabeth Taylor… until the streaker took the stage. Midway through the ceremony, David was interrupted by a naked man storming across the stage of the show with a peace sign. This man was Robert Opel, a gay political activist and teacher who became famous for this streaking incident and was later murdered.
Robert Opel was born in East Orange, New Jersey, on October 23, 1939. His family moved around several times while Robert was still young, giving the child experiences in Kentucky, Kansas, and even Canada. By the time that Robert was in grade school, his family had settled down in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Robert stayed in Pittsburgh all throughout his school years, eventually graduating college.
While Robert was attending college, he was elected to a fairly prestigious position in the student government. He was elected to be a proud member of the Student Congress, allowing him to get a taste for politics that would eventually lead him towards his career in political activism. In addition to being a member of the Student Congress, Robert also served as chairman of the school’s regional debate team.
After Robert graduated from college, he put his experience in the student government to use by becoming a speechwriter for the current governor of California. For those who aren’t well versed in their political history, the governor of California at the time was future president Ronald Reagan. It seems ironic that Robert should have officially started out his career in politics working for a conservative politician when the political activist would go on to become famous for his liberal beliefs after his notorious streaking incident at the Oscars.
By 1974, Robert had attained a job teaching ESL, or “English as a second language”, in the Los Angeles City Unified School District. As one might imagine, he was fired from that position after the Oscars incident that occurred that same year. Of course, it was worth it to Robert, whose real passion was championing gay rights, world peace, and public nudity.
The streaking incident enacted by Robert Opel at the 46th Oscars ceremony certainly wasn’t the first controversial moment that had ever graced the Academy Awards. Just the previous year, actor Sachee Littlefeather had made headlines when he turned down the acceptance of his Academy Award for Best Actor from presenter Marlon Brando. While this and other incidents had certainly created a buzz, no previous Oscars incident had ever been quite so controversial as the one involving Robert Opel. Beyond being the most memorable unplanned incident in Oscars history, many also consider Robert’s streaking turn at the 46th Academy Awards ceremony to be the most notable streaking event that has ever occurred in protest history.
The art of streaking had become incredibly popular during the early 1970s, which is perhaps why host David Niven memorably ad-libbed after the event that a streaking incident was simply bound to have happened at some point during an Oscars broadcast. The crowd laughed, and few were likely too surprised by what they saw. However, one person who was certainly taken aback by the presence of the nude man parading across the stage was presenter Elizabeth Taylor.
Streaking had come about as both a form of protest and a simple freewheeling pastime for high school and college kids. For Robert, the streaking was predominantly politically motivated, although the smile on the activist’s face certainly suggested that he was having fun doing it. Either way, there was a simple message that Robert was trying to get across, and that was that people should be more peaceful and accepting of other people, particularly of naked people.
After Robert disappeared behind the stage, the crowd burst into laughter at the shocking appearance of the nude man that had just paraded across it. Both David Niven and Elizabeth Taylor played it cool, although Elizabeth later shared that she was at a loss for words after the event and was afraid that she was going to flub a line. After the event, Robert and his message rose to greater prominence than ever. However, the activist’s life was soon going to take a tragic turn. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
After gay rights activist, teacher, and artist Robert Opel graced the stage of the 46th Academy Awards ceremony with his naked visage, host David Niven casually commented to the audience that a streaking incident was bound to have happened at the ceremony sooner or later due to the popularity of the fad. From there, he opined that stripping down and baring all before the public was perhaps the funniest thing that a person could do. At both the incident itself and David’s observations, the crowd shared some of the most boisterous laughter the Oscars has ever seen.
The ceremony’s presenter for Best Picture, Elizabeth Taylor, played it similarly cool after the event. The incident had interrupted Elizabeth’s introduction by David, and Elizabeth blushingly said upon her introduction that the streaking incident was going to be an incredibly hard act for her to follow. While Elizabeth did an excellent job, she expressed afterwards that she was afraid that the incident had left her so flustered that she wasn’t going to be able to say her lines.
As a career political activist, the 46th Academy Awards ceremony wasn’t the first place that Robert had ever streaked. However, it was certainly the most notable of the activist’s many streaking episodes. Before the ceremony, Robert had previously gotten nude before the Los Angeles City Council in an attempt to protest the banning of the area’s local nude beaches. Robert believed that people should be allowed to be nude if they wanted to, and he was a man who put his money where his mouth was.
Although Robert made his most notable impressions with streaking, getting naked wasn’t his only form of activism. Robert also garnered attention by dressing up as a gigantic phallus in a further effort to protest laws against public nudity. One might imagine that Robert’s family may have been incredibly agitated by Robert running around committing these bouts of activism with their family name. Thankfully, Robert had considered this in advance. Before deciding to become a career activist championing public nudity, Robert made sure to change the spelling of his last name. For Robert, “Opel” was spelled with one “p”, while the rest of his family continued to spell it with two.
With his 1974 streaking incident at the Oscars, Robert successfully achieved what he had set out to do: get attention for himself and his cause. Instead of being arrested after the ceremony, Robert was famously given an opportunity to explain to the audience from backstage why he had chosen to do what he did. From there, Robert went on to use this notoriety to further champion his causes.
The Academy’s reception to Robert’s streaking incident was so positive that many wondered if the event had been a stunt that was planned for the ceremony in advance. If that was the case, no one has ever come clean about it. According to Robert himself, it was just a miraculous turn of events.
Besides being a teacher, another field that Robert worked in during his life was photography. Robert had photographs published in many LGBTQ magazines, including the periodicals Finger and The Advocate. It was incredibly easy for Robert to get his photographs featured in Finger, because he also happened to be the magazine’s editor.
In 1976, Robert used the notoriety he had gained from the streaking incident to announce his candidacy for US presidency. For the campaign, Robert cheekily used the slogan that he had “Nothing to Hide”. Although the bid for presidency turned out to be little more than another novelty for the career activist, it did further increase his profile.
Following Robert’s failure to become the president of the United States, he opened up Fey-Way Studios in San Francisco. The gallery was a place for gay artists to display their work, however deranged and demented it might have been. Robert loved giving artists a place to display work that others might turn a blind eye toward for it’s content.
Sadly, Fey-Way Studios proved to be the location where Robert was tragically murdered. On July 7, 1979, two men broken into the gallery after closing hours and demanded that Robert and some friends that were with him given them money and drugs. Robert and his friends ended up being tied up in the backroom, where Robert was later shot in the back of the head and killed. The two men that committed the crime were caught, and are currently serving life sentences. At the time of Robert’s death, he was only 39 years old.
Given that Robert was a champion of human rights, it seems ironic that his life should’ve ended in such a tragic and inhuman way. Comment down below to share if you were saddened to learn about the late political activist’s tragic murder, or if you are just now learning about the infamous 1974 streaking incident that took the world by storm during the 46th Academy Awards ceremony. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!