Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Streaking the Oscars

"Oh, yes, they call him the Streak
Look at that, look at that
He likes to show off his physique
Look at that, look at that
If there's an audience to be found
He'll be streakin' around
Invitin' public critique"

Ray Stevens ("The Streak" 1974)

The '70s were loaded with ridiculous fads — pet rocks, mood rings, leisure suits, lava lamps. The list goes on and on.

Every generation, every decade has its fads, but the '70s seemed to specialize in fads to an extent that no other decade has. I always thought one of the strangest fads of that decade was streaking — the practice of shedding one's clothes (and inhibitions) and sprinting through some sort of public place.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I did streak once — as I recall, I was 13, and I did it on a dare.)

For whatever reason, streaking has lived on long after other fads from the decade faded. It isn't done as often as it once was. Sometimes the witnesses to a streak are few — in an out of the way park, for example — and other times there can be many witnesses — at a sporting event or a commencement ceremony — but it continues to be done.

Most of the time — in the '70s and today — streakers seem to be male. Heck, sometimes all you need is a frat house and a keg of beer and, before you know it, someone will take off his clothes and run down the street or something.

Of course, if he's inebriated, it might not be much of a run.

Occasionally, though, a woman does streak — and make headlines.

In the mid–1990s, for instance, a 23–year–old woman named Melissa Johnson streaked during a match at Wimbledon.

A few years later, a woman named Yvonne Robb was arrested for running on to the course and kissing Tiger Woods during the British Open. Robb wasn't naked, merely wearing a bikini, but the next year, another woman streaked fully nude onto the course that was hosting the British Open.

My memory of late 1973, at the dawn of the fad, is that there were occasions when groups of female students (probably sorority members) at one college or another would have an organized streak — at homecoming or whatever.

And it seems to me that I once heard of a kind of group streak that was done on bicycles. That was more of a coed thing — in the sense that there were both male and female streak cyclists.

Other than that, though, streakers have almost always been males.

There are no particular rules for streaking. Originally, as I recall, all streakers were naked — or wearing something that didn't cover one's "private parts," like shoes or a hat — but streaking has changed. These days, when you hear of someone streaking at some kind of event, it may not have been a classic streak.

That person is just as likely to have been wearing something private (like underwear) or otherwise revealing as to have been naked. Of course, that may be the difference between being charged with indecent exposure — and not being charged with indecent exposure.

Streaking isn't a competitive thing with some kind of scoring system. It's more of a free expression kind of thing. Whatever you can do to make your streak memorable — other than the fact that you happen to be running naked through some kind of public place — is encouraged.

Probably the most noteworthy streak took place 40 years ago tonight during the Academy Awards presentation. Robert Opel, a 34–year–old photographer and art gallery owner, made his way backstage posing as a journalist and ran naked past David Niven flashing a peace sign.

Niven, who was in the process of introducing Elizabeth Taylor (who was going to announce the Best Picture winner), was praised for his apparent calm during the disruption and his quip, "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?"

Some years later, it turned out that Niven's quip may not have been as spontaneous as it appeared. Opel's streak may have been staged by producer Jack Haley Jr., and Niven's line may have been composed in advance.

I don't believe Opel or Niven ever confirmed that it was a setup, and neither can be asked about it now. Both were dead within a decade of Opel's streak. Niven fell ill and died in his 70s, and the 39–year–old Opel was murdered during a robbery at his studio in 1979.