In the mid-1970s, low-level organized crime began making unauthorized copies of the Mitchells’ movies, and the brothers retaliated in the courts. When one judge ruled that obscene material could not receive copyright protection, the brothers eventually prevailed in the 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 by maverick attorney Michael Kennedy.
Friends and activities outside of porn
The Mitchells were popular on the fringes of San Francisco’s diverse society. Their friends included a who’s-who of pornography plus San Francisco politicians, the late Black Panther Huey “Doc” Newton, Warren Hinckle, Herb Gold, the rock band Aerosmith, and Jack Palladino (now the world’s most expensive private investigator). The late journalist Hunter S. Thompson was a close friend of the brothers, and frequently visited the O’Farrell Theatre. In 1988, the Mitchells made a 30-minute documentary about him, Hunter S. Thompson: The Crazy Never Die. Thompson claimed in his 2003 book Kingdom of Fear that he had worked for a while in 1985 as night manager at the club, an assertion repeated by some news articles.
Jim and Artie Mitchell supported various cartoonists, Dan O’Neill among them. During the 1984 Democratic National Convention, they opened the upper floor of the O’Farrell to a group of underground cartoonists, including Victor Moscoso, Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Ted Richards, S. Clay Wilson, Bob Crabb, Gary Hallgren and Phil Frank, to cover the convention for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Jim launched the publication War News to protest the first Gulf War; journalist Warren Hinckle was hired as editor, Robert Crumb designed the logo, and Art Spiegelman and Winston Smith were paid contributors. Other contributors included Daniel Ellsberg, Michael Moore, Paul Krassner, Ron Turner, Bob Callahan, Peter Bagge, Jim Woodring, Trina Robbins, S. Clay Wilson, and Hunter S. Thompson.
Twice-divorced Jim lived for years with Lisa Adams, a former porn starlet and O’Farrell dancer. 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 retained her maiden name and insisted that their children go by Bradford), and the others with Karen Hassall, whom he divorced in the mid-1980s. Meredith attended law school at her husband’s expense and, upon graduating, represented the Mitchells until Jim fired her over a conflict involving his children’s manners at her family’s Massachusetts vacation home.
In 2011, Jim’s son James was convicted of murder.
In Bottom Feeders, John Hubner characterizes the Mitchells as frequently quarreling with each other (and everyone else), alternately stingy and profligate, and often misogynistic. In Hubner’s book, the O’Farrell Theatre is a mirrored house of sleaze, filled with bikini-clad predators hustling money from men too insecure or ugly to get girls any other way. The Mitchells’ company is a model of inefficiency, with its top members, almost invariably boyhood friends of the brothers, spending their office hours taking drugs, drinking beer and playing pool.
In contrast, McCumber’s X-rated focuses mainly on the personal foibles of Artie Mitchell; indeed, Jim Mitchell is portrayed as surmounting many personal obstacles, such as overcoming drug addiction through voluntary rehabilitation.
Killing of Artie, and trial
In 1991, Jim, in response to friends’ and associates’ demands to “do something” about alcoholic, cocaine-addled Artie, drove to Artie’s house one rainy evening in late February with a .22 rifle that he inherited from his father and fatally shot him. O’Farrell dancer 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 then buried in Lodi Memorial Cemetery.
After a highly publicized trial in which Jim was represented by his old friend and lawyer Michael Kennedy (by then a prominent Park Avenue attorney), the jury rejected a murder charge and found him 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.
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. It showed the positions of Jim, Artie, the bullet impact points, and the path taken by bullets as they entered Artie’s body. This was the first use of a 3D computer animation in a criminal trial. (In his final argument before the jury, Michael Kennedy attempted to mock the virtual-reality reenactment. However, the success of the method led to its use in other trials.)
After having served three years in San Quentin, Jim was released in 1997, and he returned to run the O’Farrell Theatre.
Jim established the “Artie Fund” to collect money for a local drug rehabilitation center and for the Surf Rescue Squad of the San Francisco Fire Department. (In 1990, Artie was caught in a riptide off Ocean Beach, Jim paddled out to help, and the surf rescue squad aided in the rescue of both of them; the squad members received lifetime passes to the O’Farrell.) Artie’s children have denounced the fund, claiming it is intended to whitewash Artie’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.
Shortly before his death, Jim wanted to change California’s nickname to “the Prison State” and design a license plate saying so. He intended to protest the efforts of law enforcement and prison guards to lobby for longer prison sentences.
Death of Jim
Jim Mitchell died at his ranch in western Sonoma County on July 12, 2007, from an apparent heart attack. The funeral in Jim’s boyhood town of Antioch, California on July 19 was attended by 300 people, including Mayor Willie Brown, ex-District Attorney Terence Hallinan, and many O’Farrell ecdysiasts. He was buried next to his brother.
Books and movies
Biographies of the brothers are X-Rated by David McCumber (1992, ISBN 0-671-75156-5) and Bottom Feeders: From Free Love to Hard Core by John Hubner (1993, ISBN 0-385-42261-X).
In 2000, their story was dramatized in the movie Rated X starring real life brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez as Artie and Jim, with Estevez also directing. The film was shot in Toronto, Canada, although the entire story occurred in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In 2001 the TV series Forensic Files aired an episode called ‘Sibling Rivalry’ which documented Artie’s murder and the use of forensic animation and sound analysis at Jim’s trial.
The 2007 book 9½ Years Behind the Green Door (ISBN 1934248622) by Simone Corday describes the brothers from the perspective of a dancer at the O’Farrell and girlfriend of Artie.