THE STAR: Robert Opel, a 33-year-old unemployed actor.
THE HEADLINE: "Streaker steals Oscar Show."
WHAT HAPPENED: Near the end of the 1974 Academy Awards ceremony, host David Niven was introducing the woman who would present the Best Picture award—Elizabeth Taylor. "She is," he was saying fondly, "a very important contributor to world entertainment, and someone quite likel... Suddenly his speech was interrupted by screams and laughter as a naked man streaked across the stage in back of him. Niven stuttered for a second, then recovered and commented, "Ladies and gentlemen, that was bound to happen. Just think, the only laugh that man will probably ever get is for stripping and showing off his shortcomings." Then he gave the floor to Taylor, who quipped, "That's a pretty tough act to follow." Meanwhile, the streaker had been caught backstage and was produced by security, fully clothed, for the press. "I have no official connection with the Academy," Robert Opel told reporters. But observers speculated that Oscar show producer Jack Haley, Jr. had created the whole incident as a publicity stunt. He denied it, declaring: "l would have used a pretty girl instead."
THE AFTERMATH: Opel made an appearance on "The Mike Douglas Show," debuted as a stand-up comedian in Hollywood, and was hired to streak at other Hollywood affairs (e.g., one honoring Rudolf Nureyev). Then he disappeared from public view. Five years later, he made the news again when was brutally murdered at a sex paraphernalia shop he owned in San Francisco.
THE STAR: Jimmy Nicol, a little-known English drummer.
THE HEADLINE: "Ringo Heads to Hospital as Beatles Tour with New Drummer."
WHAT HAPPENED: In June, 1964 the Fab Four were getting publicity shots taken at a photographer's, when drummer Ringo Starr suddenly collapsed. He was rushed to a hospital, and was diagnosed as having tonsillitis. This was a huge problem—the Beatles were about to leave for a world tour. Their solution: They hired a local session drummer named Jimmy Nicol to play with them while Ringo recovered. Overnight, the bewildered Nicol became a member of the world's most popular band. Nicol played with the Beatles for two weeks—in Holland, Hong Kong, and Australia. Ringo finally felt well enough to join the band Down Under, and after one last performance—with Ringo watching—Jimmy reluctantly returned to England.
THE AFTERMATH: Inspired, Nicol started his own band, called the Shubdubs. Unfortunately, they went nowhere.
THE STAR: Jackie Mitchell, 17-year-old lefthanded pitcher for the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league baseball team.
THE HEADLINE: "Female Hurler Fans Ruth and Gehrig."
WHAT HAPPENED: It was April 2, 1931. The mighty New York Yankees were "working their way north at the end of spring training," playing minor league teams along the way. Today, they were in Chattanooga, Tennessee. When the first two Yankee batters got hits, the manager decided to make a pitching change. He brought in his latest acquisition, a local player who had never pitched in a pro game before—Jackie Mitchell. She was, in fact, the first woman ever to play in a pro game. And the first batter she had to face was Babe Ruth. A tough situation; but she was tough. Jackie struck the Babe out in 5 pitches.. .and then proceeded to strike out "Larrupin' Lou" Gehrig in 3. It was an impressive debut for a rookie, but it was a little suspect —Joe Engel, owner of the Lookouts, was known for publicity stunts, and this game had been planned for April 1 (the April Fools' Day game was rained out). Still, Jackie insisted to her dying day that it was on the level, and you can't argue with record books.
AFTERMATH: The New York Times praised Jackie in an editorial, hailing her feat as a blow for women's rights. Mitchell never made it as a pro—she played ball around Chattanooga for 6 years, then quit to marry and to take over the family business (optometry). She died in 1987.
THE STAR: Harold Russell, a disabled World War II veteran.
THE HEADLINE: 'Non-actor Wins Oscar for First Film Role."
WHAT HAPPENED: In 1946, director William Wyler made a film called The Best Years of Our Lives, depicting the personal struggles of several returning World War II vets. It was a hot topic, and the movie attracted a first-class cast: Frederic March, Myrna Loy, Virginia Mayo, Dana Andrews.. .and Harold Russell. Russell had lost both his hands in an explosion at a Georgia training camp during the war. The Army asked him to appear in a short film about disabled veterans, and Wyler spotted him in it. The director essentially cast Russell as himself—a severely disabled man trying to readjust to everyday life. Wyler wouldn't let him take acting lessons; and his performance was so powerful that it carried the film. The Best Years of Our Lives captured 7 Oscars—including best picture, best actor (Frederic March), best director, best screenplay, and best supporting actor—Russell.
AFTERMATH: Russell didn't appear in another film for 34 years. He can be seen in the 1980 feature, Inside Moves.
THE STAR: Valerie Solanas, founder of SCUM—the Society for Cutting Up Men.
THE HEADLINE: "Warhol Felled By SCUM."
WHAT HAPPENED: Valerie Solanas had hung around Andy Warhol's studio in the '60s. She'd even appeared in his movie, I, a Man. So the artist whom friends called "the ultimate voyeur" was shocked when Valerie pulled out a gun one day in June, 1968 and shot him. Solanas, it turned out, was irked that Warhol hadn't bothered commenting on the script of a play she'd left with him. Andy was seriously wounded; doctors only gave him a 50-50 chance to survive. Meanwhile Valerie turned herself in, telling the patrolman to whom she surrendered, "He had too much control over my life." She was immediately sent for psychiatric observation, while she and her organization were splashed across the tabloid front pages.
AFTERMATH: Warhol lived, Solanas was imprisoned, and the whole incident stands as an ironic reminder that no one—not even the man who first articulated the idea—is immune when someone's 15 minutes arrive.
From an old Uncle John's Bathroom Reader