Culture  /  Retrieval

What Became of the Oscar Streaker?

After Robert Opel dashed naked across the stage in 1974, he ran for President and settled into the gay leather scene.

Had he not been fired for being who he was, he might have continued down a conservative path. Instead, Opel transformed into a hippie prankster, a misfit child of the sexual revolution. After the Stonewall riots, in 1969, being gay was no longer a mark of shame but a movement, one that gave Opel a place in the world. In the early seventies, he did a regular photo feature for the Advocate called “Around Town . . . by Robert Opel.” He’d snap a long-haired hitchhiker in snug bell-bottoms, or a guy getting a lion tattoo on his ass, or a hippie lounging naked under the Hollywood sign. “I feel closer to being able to accept myself for who I am—no pretense, no bullshit, a lot less fear,” he wrote to his sister.

By early 1974, as he plotted his Oscar streak, he was working as a curriculum consultant for the L.A. school district, helping to develop a new method of teaching English to foreign students. “There is a revolution going on in linguistics education,” he told the Van Nuys Valley News, three weeks before the Academy Awards. The day after his streak, the school district informed him by letter, “Your services will no longer be needed.”

He returned to the Advocate a conquering hero. “I felt quite exhilarated really. I recommend it,” he told a reporter for the paper. “It was a challenge. I don’t know why that turns me on, but it does.”

In July, he made a second streak. The L.A. City Council had been debating a ban on nudity in public areas, including a Venice Beach spot beloved by skinny-dippers. Four hundred people packed the council chamber. As a councilwoman spoke, Opel strode up the aisle, stripped off his jumpsuit, leaped over a rope, and stood next to the stunned police chief, Ed Davis. He made a peace sign with his fingers and asked, “Is this lewd?” He was booked for indecent exposure and disturbing a public meeting. The nudity ban passed, 12–1.

His trial, at which he dressed as Uncle Sam, kept his name in the papers. “Indecent exposure generally means there was something sexual about it,” his lawyer argued. “We’re quite sure in this case that Opel didn’t come there to make love to the city councilmen.” On the witness stand, Opel testified, “I wanted to give the council an example of what a live nude person looked like, and to show them that there were no reasons to conclude that simply being nude was being lewd.” The jury found him guilty only of disturbing the meeting (“OPEL NOT LEWD,” the Advocate declared on its front page), and he received a four-month sentence.

Opel rarely spoke of his time in jail. Undaunted, he embraced his new role as “unemployed propagandist.” That September, in the wake of Richard Nixon’s resignation, he announced his candidacy, with his newly formed Nude Lib Party, for President of the United States, on a platform of complete disclosure. “I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said at his first press conference, to which he wore only his mustache, “and I want to give everyone a chance to look over my qualifications.” His campaign bore the slogan “Not Just Another Crooked Dick.”

When his candidacy failed, he became the editor of the magazine Finger, which ran raunchy photos and stories sent in by real couples. By 1975, the streaking fad had petered out, but Opel published an editor’s manifesto laying out his philosophy of nudity:

The thrust of my message is: undress. As long as cover-up is part of anyone’s mental set, he or she will be diminished in his efforts to be totally self-actualized. Undress goes far beyond simply urging one to remove the clothes from one’s physical person. But that can be a start; a visual statement of innocence; an external sign of one’s intent to exorcize hypocrisy.