The distinctly debonair, razor-thin, legendary British actor was in the middle of his scripted bit of monologue when suddenly the crowd was in an uproar.
It was 1974, in the middle of an American craze that inexplicably had caught on ever-so-briefly, as so many other American crazes seem to do----inexplicably.
This particular craze was called "streaking," or running naked through a very public place. The nation's ballparks and football stadiums, to name just a couple venues, were being overrun by those sans clothing, making their mad dashes.
And now the Academy Awards show was being interrupted by a streaker. He was male, even if just barely.
David Niven, startled by the sudden burst of hoots and howls from the audience, turned and looked to see what the commotion was all about. A streaker was moving behind him, across the stage, flashing the "peace" sign with his fingers.
Straying off script, Niven commented with spot-on---as they say in his country---comedic timing.
With typical British cool among chaos, Niven quipped, "Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen... But 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?"
The Academy Awards---better known as The Oscars---are on this Sunday. Niven's streaker incident was hardly the first time that the Awards were used to showcase one's, ahem, views. Nor would it be the last.
Actors have used their acceptance speeches to push political agendas. Marlon Brando sent a supposed Native American (it's been widely suspected that she was merely another actor, ironically) to refuse to accept his Best Actor Award for "Godfather", purportedly in protest of the country's treatment of American Indians.
George C. Scott declined his Best Actor Oscar for "Patton" because he didn't like the political machinations of the Awards themselves. So he stayed home and watched a hockey game. True story.
Woody Allen made news by deliberately declining to attend the Oscars when "Annie Hall" was up for Best Picture, so he could keep a weekly clarinet-playing date in a New York club.
Those are just a few examples.
Others have put their foot in their mouths accidentally in acceptance of their awards, blurting out curse words or other untoward, awkward things.
And who can forget Sally Field's, "You LIKE me! You really LIKE me!"?
Personally, I enjoy watching the Oscars, but mainly to pick them apart. I guess I'm masochistic that way.
I hope to be entertained and laugh along the way, however. With Ellen DeGeneres hosting this year, the odds of that happening are good.
I also look forward to the montage of those in the film industry who we lost since the last Oscars. Invariably there's someone about who my wife and I will look at each other and say, "(Fill in the blank) DIED? I didn't know that!"
Even the montage has angered me in the past. The omission of Farrah Fawcett several years ago still rankles me.
Yes, the ceremony is notorious for running long and some of the speeches are boring and still others will make you squirm a little, but there are also some kick-ass ones as well.
Watching the Oscars is probably like sitting in the kitchen and eating ice cream right out of the carton, but it only comes once a year, so view with impunity.
Now...if they could only move it to Saturday night. The damn thing goes past midnight and people have to work the next day, don't you know!
Oh, and here's the famous Niven clip.