The Pornographer's Daughter
My father Art and his brother Jim comprised one of 20th century San Francisco’s most infamous duos, The Mitchell Brothers.
They were pioneers in the pornography industry, unveiling Ivory Snow girl Marilyn Chambers in their 1972 Rated feature, “Behind the Green Door.”
Their XXX club, The O’Farrell Theater, was considered “the place to go in San Francisco” by Playboy, Hunter S. Thompson and the like.
Growing up, I knew my dad was well known in San Francisco – there would be articles on The Mitchell Brothers in the paper (Herb Caen delighted in castigating their romps).
They were known for publicity stunts not only for the live shows at the O’Farrell, but also to support their social activist agenda du monde.
However, it’s not like people asked him for autographs when we were cruising around the Wharf so I never considered him famous.
But when news that he’d been murdered by his brother Jim made international headlines, I realized The Mitchell Brother’s fame spanned an orbit far larger than the Bay Area.
And that my father’s horrific death catapulted him –- and our family -– firmly into the realm of infamy.
It was February 27, 1991. I was 20 years old (the oldest of The Mitchell Brothers 10 children) and living in Los Angeles.
It was the day the first Gulf War ended, that James Brown was let out of prison, that Christian Brando was sentenced to 10 years for murdering his sister’s boyfriend, and one Porn King was murdered by another.
Parents of our suburban friends –- kids we’d known since elementary school, whose parents were well aware of who my father was –- admonished them for attending Dad’s funeral, for standing by us in our most surreal hours.
I was stunned to realize that having a father who was a murder victim was more of a stigma than his being a pornographer had ever been.
There was standing room only at Dad’s funeral. Despite the counter-culture fallout of being in the sex industry, at his best Dad was a magnetic, hilarious sage.
Our family truly did put the “fun” in dysfunction.
The six of us kids –- and always a friend or three -– would roll out of my Dad’s light blue Ford van (replete with a “DARE to keep kids off drugs” bumper sticker) looking like “Eight is Enough” meets “Married… With Children.”
On one such venture, Dad, like a hippie Pied Piper, took the herd of kids to Good Guys to buy a jumbo screen TV.
When the salesperson declined to drop the price, Dad turned to his progeny. “You won’t drop the price? Well, kids, then where are we going to go?”
The well-prepped grommets chanted full throttle, “Circuit City! Circuit City!”
Suffice it to say the price was dropped, the biggest TV of all time brought home. Dad always had a penchant for staging a spectacle.
Dad also had a penchant for alcohol and drugs. (“Nicotine and heroin are the only drugs I’ve never tried.”)
Complications from hypothermia during a near drowning at Ocean Beach compromised his health and his ability to hold court as “Party Artie,” chief host to visiting rock stars and VIPs at the O’Farrell.
The downward spiral was in full effect. I begged Uncle Jim to do an intervention, force Dad to go to Betty Ford to dry out with the movie stars.
Jim refused, saying Art would never go to rehab on his free will. But he conceded that his brother was out of control and something had to be done. “No matter what, we’ll still be a family.”
Two nights later Jim entered my father’s house with a rifle and a pistol and shot my daddy dead. His defense team would later claim it was, “an intervention gone awry.”
For the next decade, recovery from the grief, guilt and shame of that trauma precluded processing my issues with porn.
All I knew is that I wanted to stay as far away from the O’Farrell and that business as possible. So I did.
I got married, had kids, and did my best to give my family a normal life. But something remained unfinished.
Watching my kids grow up awoke deeper truths of what I’d experienced at their ages by being exposed to pornography.
During a child abuse training, I had to take as a part-time yoga instructor at the Y, it took my breath away to read for the first time what I’d always felt was true: Exposing children to pornography is a form of sexual abuse.
As passive as my exposure was –- no one was forcing it on me, it was simply always there –- it was inappropriate and unexplained. It was abuse.
During this time I was honored to work on The Women’s Conference hosted by California First Lady Maria Shriver and was humbled by the hundreds of women who shared their tales of survival – survivors of grief, addiction, cancer, rape and sex trafficking that made my life look pretty damn manageable in comparison.
They underscored that it’s a choice: to find acceptance and become a survivor, or to be defined by the horrors in one’s storyline.
Today, I chose to own my story with compassion, forgiveness, and the gratitude that no matter what, we can move on.
Liberty Bradford Mitchell is presently developing “The Pornographer’s Daughter,” a one-woman show based on her story.