Porn News

For the Mitchell brothers, sex was strictly front-room action

San Francisco- Warren Hinckle became friends with the Mitchell brothers when police arrested him for walking his basset hound without a leash after Hinckle criticized them in The Chronicle for “using 30 cops to arrest one naked woman, Marilyn Chambers.”

A longtime columnist for both The Chronicle and Examiner, Hinckle has written many books, including the autobiography “If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade.” Recipient of the Tom Paine and H.L. Mencken awards, he is the former editor of Ramparts, Scanlan’s and Francis Coppola’s City of San Francisco magazines. He is editor of the forthcoming “Who Killed Hunter S. Thompson?,” to be published by Last Gasp in the fall. He is editor and publisher of the Argonaut ([email protected]).

The father was of good fruit tramp stock, an Okie who became a Sacramento riverboat gambler and taught his boys a trick or two about cards and the way life can twist you around. When you run into a wall, he told them, never try to run around it, go up and over it.

It was a lesson Jim Mitchell never forgot. He and his younger brother, Artie, grew up the hard way in the tough delta port town of Antioch, and Jim was right there in the face of any kid messing with Artie. He was always protecting his little brother, even on the day he killed him when a bullet ricocheted the wrong way. Life can twist you around.

Jim Mitchell was by nature born to go up the down escalator. His mind probed the sewer of a hypocritical San Francisco that celebrated the counterculture and then stripped it of its values and took them to market. When Jim and Artie held true to the compass of the ’60s with a Dionysian celebration of sex and art at the bawdy colossus of the O’Farrell Theatre, the city fathers and mothers tried to bust it. Jim grew up fighting on the Antioch waterfront where guns were trumps, and he kept fighting all his life, right up to his atypically quiet end last week at age 63, when he was at rest at last.

Mitchell had the can-do, must-do 49er ethos that made a metropolis out of a village — a village that blossomed all by its lonesome into a Pacific city-state before the unfortunate intrusion of the transcontinental railroad in 1879, connecting the unbridled West to the cosmopolitan East and disconnecting San Francisco from its own magnificent unreality. The pioneers of the city included many college-educated 19th century peaceniks drawn to the polyglot frontier as much by the lack of Civil War violence in California as by the lure of gold. But gold afforded money aplenty for both gilt and art, and in the 19th century Paris of the Pacific there was always money for artists.

More than a century later, Jim Mitchell had the money — porn money, as it was — to subsidize artists, in his case cartoonists, those roadside bandits of the art world who were one with the Okie outlaw mentality. Contemporary San Francisco since at least the time of Bill Graham has been about making more than market-level profit from art. Jim Mitchell was into subsidizing it.

From the first days, he enjoyed the feel of the filthy lucre of porn. In the O’Farrell counting room, it came in rainbow hues of Asian currency that dropped from the pockets of busloads of tourists who stopped ritually at the theater. Mitchell tithed for art more than the Mormons do for God.

“I’ve been drawing cartoons for 50 years, but Jim’s the only guy who really paid me,” said Dan O’Neill, the Gen. Rommel of the cartoon commandos. Mitchell was a rather mild, cerebral fellow — at least compared with the delightfully rain-dancing Artie — an idea man in the proverbial whorehouse who had the cynical worldview of a Carlyle and the empire-building temperament of a Kipling.

His constant fights were two-fisted; on one hand, fighting the mob’s pirating of such O’Farrell high-pink classics as “Beyond the Green Door.” The mob hid behind the cowardly conceit that the law did not allow pornography the dignity of copyright.

With the other hand, he fought the vice busters of the SFPD, who under the mayoral reign of terror of Convent of the Sacred Heart High School-educated Dianne Feinstein devolved into sort of screwball-comedy Papal Swiss Guards, raiding the O’Farrell with regularity to make what seemed like hundreds of “prostitution” pinches that all petered out in court.

Sex was the perennial headline about the O’Farrell, while the theater as a somewhat unconventional arts center remained below the radar. That would be unfair to history. In the truest spirit of analogy — in the sense of giving aid and comfort and money to artists so they could create — Jim Mitchell was the Medici of underground art in San Francisco

Artists began camping and vamping at the O’Farrell shortly after it opened on the Fourth of July, 1969. Jim, who was a master of hillbilly charm and a consummate negotiator, had finessed the then very under-financed Brothers — as they were soon to become known — into the possession of a cavern of an abandoned auto-repair garage in the Tenderloin, and christened it, presto!, the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre. It became the sandbox for the creative ebb of the declining San Francisco counterculture.

There were short-reel films shot by the Brothers (whose cinematic education was courtesy of film classes at San Francisco State), starring willing hippie lasses in itsy-bitsy bikinis without the bitsy, and there were midnight song-and-dance revues by the Nickelettes, impromptu poetry raves until the dawn and starving artists-in-residence scribbling their way with free eats, drinks and sex into what would evolve into the R. Crumb school of underground dirty comics — a school for truants that rudely injected into the bone marrow of the culture the 16 tons of bad road of Zap Comix, Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat and Keep On Truckin’.

There came a time at the 1984 Democratic Convention in San Francisco when the second floor of the O’Farrell was turned into a city room for cartoonists covering the convention for The Chronicle. Bill German, the editor, had succumbed to the siren of my entreaties to do something different from the percolator drip-drip of pedestrian political reporting and allow the underground comix gang to have their way with Democratic orthodoxy. He sagely stopped short of letting the baker’s dozen lunatics armed with lethal crayons inside the asylum of the Chronicle building.

“Find somewhere else for them to draw,” German suggested equably.

The somewhere else was the O’Farrell, a terrain from a mellow Hades where low fog from the dreaded cannabis blurred into a phantasmagoric vista out of a Little Nemo in Slumberland panel. Something like this joint must have been in the mind’s eye of Byron when he imagined “a marble palace of sherbet and sodomy.” For Jim Mitchell, famous for his unbridled generosity, nothing was too good for the artists: strawberries the size of little watermelons, chocolate truffles to die for and wine flowing as from the fountains of Babylon; all were at the ready in his office across the hall from the girls’ undressing room.

Somehow, somewhere — in the cramped office space between the regulation pool table and the well-used fishermen’s net that hung precariously low from the ceiling — Jim had set up several artists’ drawing boards that proved insufficient for the abundance of artists, who spilled over into the dressing room, where they sat under the makeup tables with drawing pads on their knees while the girls above primped for their moment onstage.

The cartoonists were of San Francisco’s underground elite — Victor Moscoso, Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Ted Richards, S. Clay Wilson, Bob Crabb, Gary Hallgren and Phil Frank. O’Neill monitored them with the whip of a galley slave chief. “Get busy, boys, listen up, 25 minutes to deadline!”

O’Neill had previously played at being admiral of the Irish Navy, commissioned by Mitchell to foul up Queen Elizabeth’s state visit to San Francisco. The navy consisted of three rowboats pulled by the mother ship of the brothers’ fishing trawler. The rowboats were loaded with rotting herring and closely followed by a humungous flock of seagulls that O’Neill assigned to defecate on the royal yacht as it passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. This was all so simply lovely for the headline happy British tabs: ‘SAN FRANCISCO PORN LORDS ATTEMPT TO SINK BRITANNIA.’ An Irish FBI agent later told O’Neill, “We were to protect the queen from guns and bombs, but nobody said anything about bird — .”

Word of the nocturnal editorial goings-on at the city’s most notorious sex emporium somehow leaked to convention delegates, and in the last nights of the convention that gave the world the Murine-eyed Walter Mondale, credentialed Democrats, including those of the senatorial rank, flocked to the O’Farrell’s ersatz editorial room to party with the cartoonists and the dancers. A party surprise for the slumming Democrats was Mitchell’s friend Jeannette Etheridge, the owner of the operatic Tosca, Jim’s preferred North Beach hangout, leaping like a gazelle atop the pool table and doing the can-can. “She has good legs,” said connoisseur Jim Mitchell. German wrote O’Neill a nice note remarking how pleased he was with the cartoon coverage. Jim Mitchell didn’t get a thank-you.

With the dawning of the age of DVDs in the mid-’80s, big-screen porn lost its big-buck allure, and Mitchell had a magnificent brainfreeze — Santa Maria! Why not live acts at the O’Farrell in the grand tradition of the Barbary Coast and Frisco burlesque? The less-than-subtle Barbary Coast of old went for donkey sex, but the O’Farrell pioneered the more civilized indoor sport of lap dancing. The daring and inventiveness of live acts on the multiple stages of the O’Farrell — one set was built as a giant shower room — awakened the Savonarola lurking inside Feinstein, who kept raiding the O’Farrell the way the Allies bombed Dresden, which in turn (as the leg bone connects to the shin bone) attracted the enlightened presence of Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter rode with the Hells Angels to get a story, and the story of the O’Farrell under siege was to him the most attractive of nuisances. Thompson applied for the job as the O’Farrell’s night manager.

Thompson’s bond with the outlaw brothers from Antioch was in its way predictable. As were the Hells Angels, they were born fighters and rebels, and Thompson all his life had swum upstream against the suffocating conventions of society and journalism-as-usual. The Brothers fought the mob and the law to protect their porn, and Thompson fought the narcs to defend his recreation and liberty. It was a primal pairing; both rejected authority in its many disguises. Jim Mitchell for his stubborn constitutional battles had earned the nickname of the Rocky of the First Amendment. Theirs was the perfect fit in a perfect storm.

Thus a new star was born on the closed set inside the O’Farrell Theatre. The night manager’s perch was beyond the dressing room, through the showers and the dainty Formica tables where the girls lunched, down unsteady steps lighted with the kind of glow that marks the escape route from an airliner, onto a platform overlooking Stage No. 1 above where the girls did their thing and lap dancing happened in the U-shaped aisles around the performing stage.

There — on a high director’s chair next to the spotlight man and the announcer cuing the ladies and playing the recorded songs they picked to strip to — for many memorable years sat Hunter S. Thompson, smoking filtered cigarettes in a holder and sipping Chivas Regal. Thompson logged so much time at the O’Farrell that Jeff Armstrong, the theater manager, was drafted into becoming Thompson’s San Francisco “road manager,” charged with the awesome responsibilities of dealing with the scripted hysteria of Thompson’s many visits to the Bay Area to give a lecture for which he was always late.

Late one afternoon, the manager of the historic Monaco Labs, San Francisco’s all-purpose studio for film professionals since the ’06 earthquake, had fixed a projector problem and was in the office with Jim when a creature bearing some resemblance to a human crawled out from under the pool table.

“Is it dark now?” the night manager asked. It wasn’t yet dark. “Good, I don’t have to go to work yet,” Thompson said and crawled back under the table to snooze.

Jim Mitchell’s death, in the precision of the cliche, is the end of an era. More like several eras in an increasingly deracinated city losing its links with its past like water from a broken radiator — eras of high porn and low art and derring-do and political clubhouse pranks. This was the red meat that fed the now-shriven soul of Old Town San Francisco.

The last thing Jim Mitchell did was an act of revolutionary art. He was on a creative roll, and the buildup to it involved some Old Town hilarity involving the mayor. This was in the dimly lit back room of Original Joe’s in the Tenderloin, where the horseshoe-shaped red Formica booths suggest the eyelids of a giant tarantula. There Mitchell’s friends had assembled to jaw with bartender John Harris and put a toe in the waters of Mitchell’s latest brainfreeze.

The meeting included a man with a Santa Claus beard who was Ron Turner, the publisher of Last Gasp, which used to specialize in dirty comic books of the R. Crumb stripe but is now into fancy coffee table books of the Robert Williams school of lowbrow art. Last Gasp and the O’Farrell Theatre are among the last surviving institutions of ’60s San Francisco. Also at Joe’s that day were a man sporting a retro Lenin beard, who was Jack Davis, the political ballbuster; and this writer; and yes, a couple of girls.

Mitchell had the table for his idea — Paris Hilton was still in jail in L.A. and Davis through his political connects could get Mike Hennessey, who has been sheriff for more years than Wyatt Earp was alive, to talk the L.A. sheriff into installing a 24/7 video feed in Hilton’s cell, which could be hooked up through Gavin Newsom’s connections with the Internet big shots. The resulting reality-TV show revenues would benefit both the S.F. and L.A. jails, the quality of prisoner care being something that Mitchell had taken an interest in since his three years in the durance vile of San Quentin after the Artie tragedy. Hilton’s cooperation was foreordained because she had got religion in the hoosegow and would want to do this good thing.

This was beautiful. A fine idea on a foggy afternoon. Davis called Hennessey with said announced intent, and Hennessey ducked the call. Rebuffed, Davis then rang up Newsom, who took the call immediately, possibly because Davis had been prominent in the political gossip columns as desperately seeking a candidate to run against him. Davis told Newsom there was this great, uh, idea, and he’d put Jim Mitchell on the phone to ‘splain it.

Mitchell got on the wire with Newsom and indeed explained it with an incisive Okie logic that made it all sound rather reasonable. I talked to Newsom before he hung up. “It sure sounds like you guys are having a good time,” he said wistfully.

Another brainfreeze of Mitchell’s from that day did come to fruition of a sort. Jim was a whistling teakettle of ideas, and often the next idea would be percolating in his head before the first one got all the way out of his mouth. The man was so smart he needed a cop to direct the flow of traffic from his brain. On this day he had decided to revive War News, a publication he launched to protest the first Gulf War. I had been conscripted as editor and R. Crumb designed the logo. Mitchell instinctively knew that the first rule of being a great publisher was to pay the talent well, a lesson from the composition book of William Randolph Hearst the First. Art Spiegelman of “Maus” fame and the brilliant San Francisco collage artist Winston Smith were in all their glory in War News.

Mitchell’s thought was that War News should declare California the first prison state. Even the Arnold had kneeled to the political and financial clout of the prison guards’ mafia and its law enforcement lobby co-conspirators. More laws keep being passed to put more people in prison and build more prisons to house them and pay more guards to mind them. The concept was to be summed up in its simplest form — a new license plate: California. The Prison State.

It was off to the races. Shortly artists Spain and Jay Kinney were summoned to the office of the O’Farrell and the elves of mischief were at work hammering out a license plate. Jim was looking at a proof of it the day he died.

In due course it will be submitted to the Department of Motor Vehicles for approval, as Jim Mitchell wanted. Let that be his epitaph.


Related Posts

Leana Lovings to Host ‘Self Compassion and Coping in Sexwork’ Workshop

Jul 18, 2024 4:54 PM PDTLOS ANGELES — Leana Lovings will host a support workshop for sex workers, titled "Self Compassion and Coping in Sexwork," tomorrow at 6 p.m. PDT on Zoom.The workshop will feature guest speaker Dr. Coralis Solomon,…

Nikki Dial Guests on ‘Get Schooled’ Podcast

Jul 17, 2024 3:50 PM PDTNEW YORK — Nikki Dial is the latest guest on the "Get Schooled" podcast, hosted by Marcela Alonso. Maxim discusses going from being a homeless teenager to entering and leaving the adult industry, getting her Master's in…

Marco Banderas Named Official Ambassador for 1Win Casino

Adult industry veteran Marco Banderas has been named the official ambassador for 1Win Casino.

Christy Canyon Returns to Studio Porn With VMG’s MILFY

Vixen Media Group today announced the return of adult industry legend Christy Canyon with an exclusive scene for MILFY opposite Spanish heartthrob co-star Alberto Blanco.

Free Speech Organization Comes Out in Support of Wisconsin Professor Who Posted on OnlyFans

LA CROSSE, Wis. — After University of Wisconsin-La Crosse recommended stripping veteran professor of communications Joe Gow of tenure last week due to unremorsefully creating and appearing in adult content, a major free speech organization has come out in his…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.