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The Mitchell brothers (James "Jim" Lloyd Mitchell, born November 30, 1943, and Artie Jay Mitchell, December 17, 1945–February 27, 1991) were active in the pornography and strip club business in San Francisco and other parts of California in the 1970s and 1980s.
They owned the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater which opened in 1969 as a porn movie theater; they gradually added live entertainment as a strip club with about 30 dancers. The Mitchells' notoriety significantly increased when Jim killed Artie in February of 1991.
Movie making and the O'Farrell
The Mitchells' father, an "Okie," was a professional poker player. He and his wife, Georgia Mae, settled in Antioch, CA, near San Francisco, and provided a relatively stable childhood for Jim and Artie; the boys were said to be popular and made friends who, years later, would become important members of the Mitchells' porn empire. Jim, a part-time filmmaking student in the mid-1960s, worked at the Follies, a cinema showing nudies, and saw a potentially lucrative market there for himself. When Artie returned from Germany where he had spent his past three years serving as a German Communications Officer for the U.S. Army, Jim asked Artie to become his business partner. In 1969, with the help of Artie's Ivy League-educated wife Meredith Bradford, they fulfilled their ambitions by leasing and renovating a dilapidated two-storey building at 895 O'Farrell Street, which they converted into the O'Farrell Theatre, a downstairs movie theater with an upstairs makeshift film studio. (They also rented a facility in another part of San Francisco in which to shoot some of their films; even their fans conceded that Mitchell movies ranged in quality from mediocre to atrocious. Jim Mitchell once quipped, "The only Art in [porn] is my brother.") The Mitchells opened the O'Farrell on the Fourth of July and were confronted almost immediately by the authorities. They would open other X-rated movie houses in California over the years, spending much time in court and money on lawyers to stay open as indignant locals and officials tried to shut them down.
They became incorporated as the Mitchell Brothers Film Group and in 1972 produced one of the first successful feature-length pornographic movies, Behind the Green Door, starring then-Ivory Snow girl Marilyn Chambers in her porn debut. The Mitchells themselves made a brief appearance in the movie (as the kidnappers of Marilyn Chambers). The movie, produced for $60,000, grossed over $25 million. The Mitchell brothers continued making porn movies and would be inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame.
In 1985, the Mitchells made the long-awaited (and -postponed) sequel to Behind the Green Door. They hired cabaret singer and frequent movie collaborator Sharon McNight to direct it and, uncharacteristically, chose to cast the film exclusively with un- or little-known performers, auditioning everyone who responded to their advertisements. A handful of O'Farrell dancers were selected for small roles; one, a Puerto Rican named Diana Manetti (who in 1992 would go to jail for trying to have another dancer murdered), asked to be considered for the starring role of Gloria (originally played by Marilyn Chambers). While the Mitchells and McNight considered Manetti, Artie Mitchell's girlfriend Missy cast herself in that crucial part. Filming of the sequel occurred mainly in the O'Farrell Theatre; Missy, overweight and utterly inexperienced in acting and public sex, reportedly had much difficulty performing sexually in front of the film crew; the set was so tense that at one point Jim Mitchell loudly harangued one of his managers in front of everyone because the catered lunch was inadequate. This was also the world's first safe-sex film, in which all the men wore condoms and self-protection advice was given to the audience by one of the characters. Highly overbudget ($250,000) and featuring no familiar porn names, the sequel, according to adult magazines, was one of the worst porn pictures ever made. Missy promoted the film and billed herself as "the Republican Porn Star." She posed nude for Playboy magazine and revealed that she was Utah-born and -bred Elisa Florez, a former aide to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch.
In the mid-1970s, low-level organized crime began to bootleg the Mitchells' movies, and the brothers fought back in the courts. When one judge ruled that obscene material did not enjoy copyright protection, they appealed and eventually prevailed in the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, leading to the FBI copyright warnings now found at the start of videotapes.
The O'Farrell Theatre was frequently raided on obscenity and related charges, leading to over 200 cases against its proprietors. They were defended, always successfully, by maverick attorney Michael Kennedy.
The Mitchells were well connected in San Francisco's diverse society. Their friends included a who's-who in pornography plus San Francisco politicians, the late Black Panther Party member Huey P. Newton (Huey "Doc" Newton held a Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Cruz), Warren Hinckle, Herb Gold and the rock band Aerosmith. The late journalist Hunter S. Thompson, a close friend of Art Mitchell who became the "Night Manager" of the O'Farrell Theatre.
Killing of Artie
In his biography "Bottom Feeders," author John Hubner characterizes the Mitchells as frequently quarreling with each other (and everyone else), alternately stingy and profligate, frequently abusive and misogynistic, with Jim dominating alcoholic, cocaine-addicted Artie.
In their personal lives, twice-divorced Jim for years has lived with Lisa Adams, a former porn starlet and O'Farrell stripper. He and his second wife Mary Jane had four children; one of them, Meta, is now the O'Farrell's general manager. Artie was the father of six, three with his first wife, Meredith Bradford (who refused to take her husband's surname), and the others with Karen Hassall (now van Kayne, a notary public in Sonoma, CA), whom he divorced in the mid-1980s. Meredith attended law school at her husband's expense and represented the Mitchells until Jim fired her over a conflict involving her family's Massachusetts vacation home and his children's poor manners there.
In 1991, Jim drove to Artie's house one rainy evening in late February with a rifle and shot him to death; O'Farrell stripper Julie Bajo (Artie's lover at the time) immediately called 911 and the police arrested Jim minutes later. Marilyn Chambers spoke at Artie's funeral, and he was buried in Lodi, California Memorial Cemetery.
After a highly publicized trial in which the defendant was represented by his old friend and lawyer Kennedy (by then a prominent Park Avenue attorney), the jury rejected a murder charge and found Jim Mitchell guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Before Jim's sentencing, numerous people spoke on his behalf (presumably appealing for clemency), including former Mayor Frank Jordan, Sheriff Michael Hennessey and former Police Chief Richard Hongisto. Mitchell was sentenced to six years in prison. After having served three years in San Quentin he was released in 1997 and returned to run the O'Farrell Theatre. One of the results of Jim's trial is that the California Courts allowed, in a precedent-setting decision, a virtual reality reenactment of the murder to be entered into evidence. This virtual reality reenactment showed the positions of Jim, Artie, and the path taken by bullets as they entered Artie's body. (In his final argument before the jury, Michael Kennedy mocked the virtual-reality reenactment, reportedly making some of the jurors giggle.)
Jim established the "Artie Fund" to collect money for a local drug rehabilitation center and the surf and rescue team of the San Francisco Fire Department (in 1990 Artie rescued his sons Aaron and Caleb who had been swept out by the tide at Ocean Beach but got hypothermia battling the strong current as he swam back to shore. When the fire department arrived they could do little to help because they had no surf rescue equipment due to minimal funding). Artie's children have denounced the fund, claiming it is intended to whitewash Jim's murder. On their website, they describe their father's murder as premeditated and motivated by greed and jealousy, and claim that the depictions of Artie in the books and movie are inaccurate.
Books and movies
In 2001, their story was dramatized in the movie X Rated starring the brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez as Artie and Jim, with Estevez also directing. The film, oddly, was shot in Vancouver.
- Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre, includes information about the "Artie Fund"
- Rotten.com Library
- Artie Mitchell at the Internet Movie Database
- Jim Mitchell at the Internet Movie Database
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