On This Day: April 2
Male nudity and murder special! How Burt Reynolds' hairy nekkidness challenged the very foundations of American society. Plus, the Oscars are interrupted by the swinging dick of a future murder victim, the B-movie star who killed his wife while they were making out, and the first-ever cinema opens for business.
1902 -- Los Angeles's Talley's Electric Theatre -- the first purpose-built cinema in America and probably the world -- opens at 262 South Main Street. It advertises itself as a "New Place of Amusement...High Class Moving Picture Entertainment...Especially for Ladies and Children!". Patrons paid a dime for an hour-long program that included crime recreation The Capture Of The Biddle Brothers and the self-explanatory New York In A Blizzard. On its first day Talley's operated from 7:30pm to 10:30pm but overwhelming demand saw a matinee offered the following afternoon. Just over a year later, it'd be renamed The Lyric Theatre and offer, 'Refined Vaudeville...New Moving Pictures. Continuous Performance" just in time for The Great Train Robbery to become a sensation.
1965 -- In Palm Springs, Tom Neal, star of B-classic noir Detour but now a gardener, shoots his third wife Gale Bennett in the back of the head with a .45, killing her instantly. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty but Neal offers an amazing explanation of the tragedy. See, he and Gale had been having sex when he'd accused her of sleeping around. So she pulled out the gun and put it to his head. In the struggle, it went off accidentally and she bought it. Hey, just like he accidentally strangled Ann Savage in Detour! Even more amazing was that this defense led to him only serving six years for involuntary manslaughter. It was the second time Neal made headlines for his violent ways. The first was his legendary 1951 fight with Franchot Tone over their shared starlet girlfriend Barbara Payton. Back then, Neal's fists left the celebrated actor with a concussion, broken nose and permanent scarring. The scandal ruined Neal and Payton's careers.
1972 -- Burt Reynolds, whose upcoming films are the appropriately named Fuzz and the thematically apposite Deliverance, appears naked in Cosmopolitan magazine. An extra 700,000 copies of the magazine have to be printed to meet the demand for a picture of a hairy fella baring almost all on an equally hirsute bear. There's outrage, with Art Buchwald parodying those who said it'd destroy values that'd been established by God back when he made Adam.
"While our mores have permitted the exploitation of the female body in paintings and photographs, the male body, up until the Cosmopolitan pull-out, was considered too sacred to show in public. Now that Mr Reynolds has posed in the nude, it's a whole new ball game. The civil libertarians and the Women's Lib bleeding hearts may ask, 'What is wrong with displaying a nude male body in a national magazine as long as it is done with taste and discretion? The answer to this question is that by cashing in on the public's appetite for sensationalism, we are making the male nothing more than a sex object to be leered at and ogled by frenzied women. We are appealing to the most prurient interests of a large segement of the female population, which has always treated men as second-class citizens."
1974 -- At the 46th Oscars, 33-year-old gay activist and freelance photographer Robert Opel streaks across the stage and flashes the peace sign while David Niven (who has followed Burt Reynolds as the night's host) is introducing Elizabeth Taylor to present Best Picture. The ever-smooth Brit gets one of the biggest laughs in the show's history with his famous 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?" A flustered Liz Taylor says, "That's a pretty hard act to follow." At a press conference later, the now-dressed Opel tells reporters that he got backstage by posing as a journalist and his streak was a protest and a PR ploy: "You know, people shouldn't be ashamed of being nude in public. Besides -- it is a hell of a way to launch a career."
Conspiracy theories claim the stunt was planned by the show's producers, citing the fact that Opel wasn't arrested as evidence and citing witnesses who say they saw Niven jotting the joke down in rehearsal. In any event, the streak turned Robert Opel into a minor celebrity, and he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show and was hired to get nekkid at Hollywood parties. In 1978, he opened San Francisco's Fel-Way Studios, the first gallery dedicated to gay male art and one of the earliest venues to exhibit Robert Mapplethorpe's work. A year later, Opel was shot dead during a robbery of Fel-Way, having told his attackers they'd have to kill him before he gave them a cent.