Porn Kings

This article appears in Volume 2 – Issue 1 of SKUNK Magazine.

JIM AND ARTIE MITCHELL HAD IT ALL. They were the millionaire owners of a vast adult film empire and hobnobbed with celebrities and socialites. Their lives were filled with late-night parties and even later wake-up calls. People stood in line to offer the brothers all the drugs and alcohol they could consume. Dozens of beautiful women were at their beck and call. But it all ended one February night, 1991, when Jim loaded his .22 and put a bullet through Artie’s brain.

The Mitchell brothers grew up poor; the trashiest of white trash in Antioch, California. By all accounts they were picture-perfect brothers. As children Jim never failed to protect the younger Artie, even against the most vicious of bullies. With little in the way of a formal education, and not enough money to attend college, the brothers decided to move to San Francisco and find their fortune.

The Bay Area in the late ’60s was an absolute paradise for the hedonistic duo. The aptly named 1969 Summer of Love was filled with anti-war protests, racial and sexual revolutions, and as much sex and drugs as one could handle. Yet, even with the bursting sexual energy of the hippie scene, there was little outlet for the average horny citizen. Jim and Artie saw their opportunity and started producing “loops”: 10-20 minute long smut films showing people engaged in every depraved act of coupling one could imagine. Typically, middle-aged men would pay twenty-five cents a minute for the privilege of viewing teenage hippies having sex, and for the privacy to make the films worthwhile.

In spite of opening the floodgates to a new world of sexual freedom, the movie would prove to be the Mitchell bothers’ last great hurrah.

The Mitchell brothers quickly found that the loops were not enough to sate their appetite for cash and notoriety. Very few theatres were willing to purchase the risqué films, and no legitimate movie companies were willing to produce them. So Jim and Artie used their mother’s life savings to purchase a rundown warehouse and an abandoned Pontiac dealership on the wrong side of town. Within months the warehouse had been secretly converted into a full soundstage and set, and the car lot was renovated into the now legendary Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre, the premiere porn movie house in the world. O’Farrell Theatre opened on July 4, 1969, and dozens of eager men lined up to see some of the first publicly displayed adult films ever shown.

It wasn’t long before word reached the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. Three weeks after the O’Farrell Theatre opened police raided it and arrested Jim, charging him with public obscenity. The scrappy brothers couldn’t have been happier. Having thumbed their noses at an establishment they hated, someone was finally taking notice. Even better, their names were plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the city, and the theatre instantly became fashionable.

Arresting the Mitchell brothers turned out to be a mistake the city of San Francisco would dearly regret. Jim and Artie were uniquely savvy in their ability to manipulate the press, and the ensuing court battles cost the city millions. The boys were arrested hundreds of times; every arrest brought more fame, more fortune, and more public support to the besieged twosome.

By 1972 Jim and Artie finally cobbled together enough cash to produce a full-length feature film. With no shortage of young, innocent hippie girls willing to have sex on film, Marilyn Chambers stood out. Tall, naturally blonde, and gorgeous, Chambers possessed a grace and beauty the others didn’t. She was also a professional model for Ivory Snow detergent and Procter & Gamble. So she became the star, portraying the title character Gloria Saunders. A woman who is abducted and brought to a sex theater, where she is forced to perform various sexual acts in front of an audience. However, the instant the companies realized that their squeaky-clean spokesmodel had become a sex star they recalled every product and piece of advertising featuring Chambers. The scandal gave the Mitchell brothers a lot of mainstream publicity. Finally, Jim and Artie had realized a life-long dream: producing the world’s first hardcore pornographic movie entitled Behind the Green Door.

In spite of opening the floodgates to a new world of sexual freedom, the movie would prove to be the Mitchell bothers’ last great hurrah. They were now rich and famous, and nothing was denied them. Booze, women, drugs, and fame came rushing down like a tidal wave of sin. Stoic Jim retreated into his office at the O’Farrell Theatre, sequestering himself from family and friends. The more impulsive Artie went the other way entirely. Never one to say no to a glass of tequila or a fat joint, Artie spiraled into a dark netherworld of drug and alcohol abuse. By the mid ’80s the constant cycle of arrests and court battles had nearly bankrupted the Mitchell’s empire. Artie became abusive to dancers at the theatre and was accused of viciously beating several ex-girlfriends. It wasn’t uncommon for a drunken Artie to utter death threats against his closest friends, or brandish one of his many handguns.

On February 27, 1991, Jim decided to put an end to the situation. If that meant putting an end to Artie, so be it. He loaded a .22 caliber rifle and several handguns, and had enough ammunition to hold off a siege army. He told his wife he was going to visit his wayward brother and force Artie into a drug rehabilitation program-by gunpoint, if necessary. What happened next has never been clearly determined. All anyone knows is that at the end of the visit Artie’s brain was smashed to oblivion by a bullet from his brother’s rifle, and

Jim was charged with his murder.

During the trial, both the defense and prosecution steered well clear of motive. Was Jim simply trying to nudge his beloved brother onto a clearer path? Or was he simply sick and tired of Artie’s unhinged behavior and saw an opportunity to claim the theatre? Either way, Jim was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served three of his six-year sentence in Folsom State Prison in California. Jim is now the sole owner of the O’Farrell Theatre and runs the business to this day.