The Mitchell Brothers of San Francisco

The Mitchell Brothers of San Francisco Jim { born 1943} and the late Artie { born 1945} played a significant role in both the development of porn as the US liberalised in the late 1960s and of striptease and lap dancing in the late 70s early 80s to the present day. Their primary outlet the O’Farrell Theatre in San Francisco is still open  and remains a controversial site at the cutting edge of adult entertainment in the USA after over 35 years in business.The brothers were brought up by a small town gambler in Stockton,California and Jim initially went to college to study film {under later Hollywood Director Peter Brogdonovich}. He started taking topless still shots of college girls and selling them to boost his income, then this soon developed to porno “loop” films. He dropped out of college and the 2 brothers found a disused Pontiac car dealership in O’Farrell St, San Francisco and converted it into a 200 seat porno cinema to show the loops they had made.

The theatre opened on July 4th 1969 and within a few weeks was raided by the Police on obscenity charges. The Mitchell Brothers had over 200 charges laid against them in their 35 years of business but have to date only lost 1 { later overturned on appeal} in court as juries proved to be much less worried about adult entertainment than various local politicians and the police. The Mitchell brothers rather than adopt the normal low profile of people charged with obscenity openly courted publicity and had good relations with the local press. Famous “gonzo journalist” Hunter S Thompson was a friend, regular, and part time employee at the club.
The Mitchell Brothers big break came in 1971 when they produced a film called “Behind the Green Door” starring Marilyn Chambers and John Holmes. This cost only $60,000 to make and took a reputed $30m at the box office but brought them into conflict with the Mafia especially on the east coast of the US who made illegal copies of the film. Unlike other porno film makers the Mitchell’s did not cave in but pursued this through the courts and even opened their own theatres {by 1975 they had a chain of 11} so they could control things better. The film was the 2nd biggest grossing porno film of all time and had the stroke of luck that Chambers was featured as a model housewife on the packet of a detergent called “Ivory Snow” just as the film was being launched.
In 1975 the The Mitchell Brothers produced an unsuccessful and expensive porno film called “Sodom and Gomorrah “ and to recover their finances live stripping came to the O’Farrell in 1976 mainly initially using the performers from the porno films and featuring live sex shows in a separate theatre called the “New York”. The authorities stepped in and sex shows stopped but striptease remained. In 1980 the brothers introduced nude lap dancing to the New York where the girls not working on stage sat on the audience’s lap fully naked for tips. After pressure from the authorities the girls were forced to wear bikinis but the lap dancing stayed and in many ways the O’Farrell once again led the way for the rest of the USA. Famous porn stars like Chambers, Annette Havens, Fallon {right}, and Nina Hartley {left} were regulars at the club whose fame had grown internationally.
San Francisco’s Mayor in this period was Dianne Feinstein {these days a senior Democratic senator} and she made it a personal crusade to shut the O’Farrell down. Various raids took place including one in 1985 which arrested Marilyn Chambers when nude on stage. The Mitchell’s did not take this lying down and journalist Warren Hinckle, another buddy of the brothers and a frequent critic of the mayor, wrote several columns of scathing ridicule about the arrest and the politician behind it. A few days later, Hinckle was arrested on a warrant for walking his basset hound, Bentley, without a leash! In response Feinstein’s private telephone number was put on the outside of the club with the legend “for showtimes call …. !

The club itself is large and the brothers exploited this by using other areas to create separate shower dance shows, the Kopenhagen lounge lesbian show lit only by torches, and the Ultra room an s and m peep show.

The financial success of the club created it’s own problems and the The Mitchell Brothers became heavy cocaine users. In the late 80s Jim, always the more businesslike of the 2, cleaned himself up and wanted Artie to do likewise. Disputes between the 2 escalated and on February 27th 1991 Jim Mitchell went to Artie’s house, slashed his car tyres and shot him 3 times, killing him while his wife frantically phoned for the police. Jim amazingly was only sentenced to 6 years and by 1995 he was out of San Quentin and running the club again.

The O’Farrell had been one of the first clubs in the US to start charging dancers house fees and in 1991 several ex dancers took a class action against the club demanding the return of these fees. The case was eventually settled in 1998 with the club paying $2.8m to the dancers. In 2002 a further class action was started against private dance charges.
By the mid 90s the club had been open 25 years and it’s longevity and fame had started to change the authorities attitude to it. In 1996 Willie Brown was elected Mayor of San Francisco and he took a much more liberal attitude to the club even publicly celebrating the return of Marilyn Chambers {by then 47, right} 1999 to celebrate it’s 30th anniversary. Jim Mitchell fresh out of jail and ever interested in pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable started installing private booths called cabanas where dances could be really personal and private, then later private rooms complete with sofas, door locks etc. The club is as busy as ever and these days one of the very few in the city not owned by the DeJaVu chain. In 2000 there was a successful cable TV bio pick about the The Mitchell Brothers called “Rated X” staring Charlie Sheen.
Since the 1960s San Francisco in general and the O’Farrell theatre in particular have been at the forefront of trends and it’s still one of the raunchiest places in the whole of the USA. Details of which girls will do what in the private areas can these days even be found on a separate web site. Mayor Brown ended his term in 2004 and so far the new Mayor Newson has not started a Feinstein style crackdown but history suggest that one will come eventually and that Jim Mitchell will continue to operate despite it!


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Author: Saxon is covering the European Striptease industry with monthly updates on or famous London Gossip, Interviews with industry people, articles and news from the world of striptease. We also offer a Striptalk forum, Industry Directory with Stripclubs and Agents and a Job board for the Striptease industry in Europe.