Artie Mitchell Porn Star
Before Rob Black, before Max Hardcore, way before even the Dark Brothers, Jim and Artie Mitchell were garnering headlines coast to coast by pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable in adult entertainment. A pair of Northern California hustlers with their roots in the San Francisco hippie culture, the Mitchell Brothers were the first 'pornographers' to become widely known to outside audiences. At the same time, they helped hardcore films gain acceptance and visibility in mainstream American culture.
Born and raised in the small Bay Area hamlet of Antoich, Jim and Artie's father died while they were still very young. A gambler and con man, J.R. Mitchell passed on quite a few traits that would come in handy to his entrepreneurial offspring.
After graduating high school in the mid-1960s, the boys drifted through a series of odd jobs. Neither one had much idea what to do with his life, but eventually Jim headed to San Francisco and enrolled at S.F. State University. A minor in Film led him to a job shooting still photos of naked women for skin mags. Soon he was shooting full-fledged 16mm loops of solo nudes, young gals from the Haight-Ashbury who weren't shy about showing off their bodies for a little pot money.
On July 4, 1969, the brothers opened their own nudie flick house in San Francisco's Polk District, the soon-to-be-famous O'Farrell Theatre. They splashed their own cutting-edge sex flicks across the screens and soon had established the spot as a hip spot among a certain segment of the counter-culture. San Francisco's hippie community embraced the sex films, feeling that they were helping free America from its straight-laced bourgeois hang-ups.
A rival theater's showing of a bestiality flick soon had the police coming down on all of the Bay Area's flourishing skin palaces. The Mitchells fought back, though. They hired radical attorney Michael Kennedy to defend them, and began the free speech crusade that they would fight on and off for the next 20 years. In addition to fighting various obscenity charges in court, the Mitchells decided to change the way they did business.
Rather than show strictly solo-girl masturbation flicks, they began adding stories and (admittedly weak) plots. They felt that as long as they were including stories and such in their sex films, they would have a better chance arguing for their "redeeming social value" at any later court proceedings. "If the cops hadn't bothered us," said Jim Mitchell, "we probably wouldn't have gotten into stories."
In 1971, the brothers released their first full-fledged feature. The soon-to-be-classic "Behind the Green Door" was shot for around $60,000 -- a huge amount for the Mitchells to lavish on a production. Driven by the star-making debut of former health-food waitress Marilyn Chambers as a virginal innocent led on a voyage of sensual discovery, the flick ended up grossing upwards of $25 million. Despite the low-budget 16mm production values, the film became a nationwide phenomenon and made Jim and Artie into the first celebrity pornographers.
By the time of the 1974 release of their follow-up hit "The Resurrection of Eve," the brothers were at the top of a sex empire, running 11 separate theaters throughout the West Coast. Over the next ten years, Jim and Artie's fortunes dwindled due to their running battles with the courts and diminishing returns on less-than-stellar flicks like "Desire for Men" and "Never A Tender Moment." 1985's "The Grafenberg Spot," starring Ginger and Amber Lynn in a g-spot spoof, represented a brief return to form. For the most part, though, the business had passed them by in favor of better-trained filmmakers and even raunchier situations.
The brothers continued battling obscenity charges throughout the 80s, including several charges brought up after a particularly wild Marilyn Chambers appearance. Although the O'Farrell continued to draw crowds, the thrill was gone for Jim and Artie. Drugs and an incessant hard-partying attitude didn't help.
In 1990, Jim made the papers again for swimming into Ocean Beach and saving the lives of Artie and his nephew Storm. Artie's brush with death didn't stop his slide into drug addiction, though. Although details are still murky, on February 27, 1991, Jim shot Artie to death in what he describes as an 'intervention gone awry.' Jim maintains that he went to the house to help Artie that night, and that somehow things got out of hand.
Either way, Artie ended up dead from a trio of gunshot wounds. Jim was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served six years in San Quentin. He was released from prison on October 3, 1997. Jim Mitchell is now content to maintain a low profile in the Bay Area, far from the debaucherous industry he helped create.
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