Penthouse Retrospective

by Al Goldstein Originally Published: October, 1991

O’Farrell Farewell

Behind the Green Door of their Porn Empire, Jim and Artie Mitchell’s symbiotic demands were spiraling to an ultimate explosion of violence.

Penthouse Magazine - October 1991The O’Farrell | Citizen Cain … and Abel

The first time we see Norman Bates in Psycho, he’s carrying an umbrella in heavy rain. Natural enough, except for the fact that the umbrella is rolled up. This was Alfred Hitchcock’s visual clue that the man was seriously nuts.

It was raining in the Marin County suburb of Corte Madera, across the Golden Gate from San Francisco, on the night of February 27, 1991. Officer Kent Haas got a report of gunshots at 23 Mohawk Avenue, just two blocks from where he was finishing up with a traffic ticket. He drove to the scene and saw a man stiff-legging it down the rain-slicked street. Oddly, the umbrella the guy was carrying was rolled up, even though it was raining.

Haas drew his service revolver and ordered the man to stop. The guy ducked behind a car and began tugging at the waistband of his pants. Haas got very nervous, screaming at the man to stop the fuck what he was doing and put his hands in the air. The man in the sights of Haas’s .38 was Jim Mitchell, one half of the Mitchell Brothers Sex and Drugs and Free Speech Traveling X-Rated Road Show.

The other half, Artie Mitchell, was lying in a pool of his own blood in his rental house at 23 Mohawk. He was dead. The .22 rifle stuck down Jim Mitchell’s pants — the reason for his odd, Charlie Chaplin-like walk away from the scene of the crime — had fired the bullets that killed his brother Artie. Inside the house, Artie’s girlfriend, Julie Baja, was still crouching in the bedroom closet, terrified, clutching her sanity in the form of a pink Princess phone connected to the dispatcher on 911.

“We were in bed… I heard… we were in bed and I heard doors opening and slamming. Then we started hearing shots, like… ”

Dispatcher: “How many?”

Baja: “Like BB shots, or shots, I don’t [know] what kind of shots. About… I heard like, one, two, three… we got out of bed, we turned on the lights and I… [Artie] said give me some clothes… I got in… I was putting on my shirt and I heard another shot and I got into the closet.”

There she would stay until the police would come and tell her that Artie Mitchell was dead, hit with three bullets from Jim’s .22 as he stepped out into the hall to investigate the sound of somebody in his house. One bullet hit him in the belly, one in the arm; he would have probably survived those. But a ricocheted fragment of one slug no thicker than pencil lead tore through his right eye and into his brain. He staggered down the hallway and fell backward into a bathroom to die.

What happened that night in Marin really was the “murder of the Mitchell Brothers,” since they were one unit, and you couldn’t break them apart without killing the whole. They had been a symbiotic organism, one that had produced some of the top-grossing adult films of all time, the superb Behind the Green Door first among them. Artie was 45 when he died, and Jim 47, so it was the end of a two-brother tag team that had spent almost half a century watching each other’s back. Together the brothers fought off 22 years of street challenges and court actions against their adult entertainment empire, including their flagship theater, the O’Farrell in downtown San Francisco. But at the end it was Jim — not Artie — who really put an end to the Mitchell Brothers.

“‘Don’t come until the last one,’ Artie told me. ‘She’s a knockout.’ So I thought about ugly baseball players while I screwed five O’Farrell dancers.”

I knew Jim and Artie Mitchell well, or as well as you can know someone and still have it come as a complete surprise to find that they are capable of murder. I had witnessed the carnival scene of the Mitchell Brothers in their office at the O’Farrell, where such luminaries as writers Hunter S. Thompson and Warren Hinckle stood in attendance. As a gag, I “performed” on stage at the O’Farrell, where the Mitchells unleashed a diesel dyke upon me with a 12-inch dildo strapped to her crotch. I was terrified. I didn’t want to get cornholed in front of my friends, several of whom were in the audience. But it was just more high jinks from those laugh-a-minute Mitchell Brothers.

That’s the way it was. The Mitchells came out of the sweetness-and-light side of the adult entertainment world, the side born during the Summer of Love in San Francisco. It held that sex was honest, healthy, and the path to human enlightenment. The brothers Mitchell were genial and relaxed, open and accessible, in a business that was at its best flaky and at its worst shady and twisted.

People are very forgiving of Jim Mitchell, recognizing that he is probably punishing himself more severely than any court could. He may be the world’s only pornographer to have a public official testify as to his character during a bail hearing — State Senator Quentin Kopp was among a dozen people who spoke on Jim’s behalf in late April, just before he was released on a half-million-dollar bond.

“I love Uncle Jim,” said Artie’s 17-year-old daughter Mariah at her father’s memorial service. “No matter what, he’s my uncle, and I love him.”

In the face of the unexplainable, people clutch at the straw of insanity. The night at Corte Madera was just an aberration, a temporary excursion into madness. Why would Tweedledee kill Tweedledum? Was it possible that Jim Mitchell had a mental breakdown and inexplicably found himself in his brother’s house blasting away with a rifle?

“That conclusion is consistent with the facts as we know them at this point.”

That’s a bit of lawyerese from Michael Kennedy, who with Dennis Roberts comprises Jim Mitchell’s defense team. Kennedy got some recent experience with big-stakes family fire-fights while representing Ivana Trump in her divorce from Donald. Roberts is a longtime Mitchell Brothers attorney. The shrink for the accused is Martin Blinder, best known for his “Twinkie” defense of Dan White, the Bay Area councilman who killed Mayor George Moscone under the influence, Blinder stated in court, of high-sugar snacks. The devil’s food made him do it.

But there is no shortage of speculation about the Mitchell Brothers murder case. Everybody’s got a theory, or, to put it another way, everyone has an ax to grind. These days blood turns magically to ink, and Artie’s demise has all the makings of a media blue-plate special: sex, drugs, and fratricide. What more could a poor hack want?

While researching this article, I ran across no fewer than four scripts, either in-the-making or ready for storyboards. Blood turns into ink, and also into celluloid and video. “Hard Copy” and “Inside Edition” did obligatory (and horribly sensationalized) “exposés.” In the midst of this media blizzard, it’s not surprising that theories are flying fast and thick.

“The private life of a slain pornographer: Is it a movie, or a miniseries?” asked the Los Angeles Times in an article on Karen “Kay” Mitchell, Artie’s ex, in L.A. to “explore the Hollywood options of her life.”

Kay has a theory. She says she may have helped kill Artie — only indirectly, of course. By encouraging him — “nagging him” would probably not be too strong a phrase here — to get help for his substance-abuse problems, she may have set the stage for a face-off between the brothers. Artie, ever the “fuck authority” type, resisted attempts to get him into a treatment program. Kay Mitchell says she called Jim a few weeks before the murder.

“I said, ‘Jim, things are serious over here. It’s scary. Artie needs help and I think you’re the only one who can help him.’ Jim didn’t say much. He said he knew how serious things were. He said, ‘I’ll do the best I can, Kay.’” Maybe Jim was just “doing his best” when he went over to Artie’s house that night. Maybe he was only going to scare the shit out of his brother, panic him into the Betty Ford Center or some other program.

The prosecution is having none of it. They point to the fact that Jim parked three blocks away, that he slashed his brother’s tires before he went in and shot him, that he carried a .22 rifle {“The quietest gun you can fire without using a silencer,” detective Mario Watkins notes) with a .38-caliber handgun in a shoulder holster to back it up.

“This was a premeditated murder, and the suspect was involved in careful execution of the crime,” quoth Watkins, in perfect cop jargon. If the prosecution can prove such premeditation, 47-year-old Jim Mitchell will face 30 years to life in prison.

But although the police mutter about financial gain as the reason Jim killed his brother, no one has really come up with a viable motive. Just a lot of theories… and one dominant metaphor.

And Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in a field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and slew him.

And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

That’s Genesis 4, and a convenient cultural touchstone to fall back upon. However true it rings, I think that Jim and Artie would have scoffed. These were twentieth-century guys, raised in a new age that said the Bible was just another book, that morality was a hood-winker to keep the peasants in line, that a couple of Super Mario Brothers like Jim and Artie were free to do whatever they pleased.

Cain and fucking Abel? When a judge tried to knock them down in court by referring to the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah, they laughed and used it as a title for their next film. The raucous set of Sodom and Gomorrah was typical of the party-hardy Artie and Jim. “That film almost cost us the Mitchell Brothers Film Group,” Artie Mitchell would later say. “It almost cost me my relationship with Jim. It destroyed my marriage. But what a party!” No Old Testament ghost stories around the camp fire for these guys.

But there’s another metaphor that keeps haunting me, one that sprung to mind hearing the words of Chuck Traynor: “These guys were just like twins,” said the one-time manager-husband to Green Door star Marilyn Chambers. “They drove the same cars, rode the same bikes. They ran the business, they did everything together.” Richard Lackey, a high school friend of Jim’s, felt the same way: “The way to describe them is they were two gears that meshed perfectly.”

Dead Ringers is a mesmerizing thriller directed by David Cronenberg. The movie is based on a true story about twin gynecologists lost in a swirling vortex of drugs, pussy, and finally, murder. A deeply disturbing film — acted with fierce sympathy by Jeremy Irons, who plays both roles — Dead Ringers runs straight to the truth about the suffocating, claustrophobic, pathological world of two brothers who are too close for their own good.

“Artie’s demise has all the makings of a media blue-plate special: sex, drugs, and fratricide. What more could a poor hack want?”

The movie also refers to the story of the original Siamese twins, Chang and Eng. Chang died of a stroke in the middle of the night. He was always the sickly one, always the one who drank too much. When Eng woke up beside him and found that his brother was dead, he died of fright, right there in the bed. The place where all the theories and metaphors start to melt away is Antioch, California, an East Bay town near the Sacramento Delta where Jim and Artie Mitchell grew up. Today it’s an overdeveloped bedroom community of 70,000, populated by blue-and pink-collar workers pushed east from Berkeley or up from Oakland in flight from spiralling real estate values. The direct California sun is unkind to the condos and ranch homes of Antioch, glaring down on them, making them look small, dusty, and impoverished.

The Mitchells came from Okie stock, descendants of people who drifted west in the great exodus of the Dust Bowl. The Okies’ migration was chronicled in The Grapes of Wrath, and the vast bulk of the displaced farmers weren’t absorbed into California’s labor force until a decade after they showed up, during the aircraft-and-munitions boom of World War II. The Mitchells still spoke with a slight drawl, a product of living with other Okies as much as a remnant of their heritage. But beyond that, you could identify them for what they were by their pug faces: black Irish, salt of the earth, unredeemed and irredeemable, passionate, emotional, and direct.

When Jim and Artie grew up there, Antioch was a different town from the suburb it would become, one-tenth of the size it is now, solidly working class, a mill town all the way. “Tiock,” the natives called Antioch, drawing out the vowels. If you cast about for a future for the Mitchell Brothers, you didn’t have to look farther than the slightly sulfurous Crown Zellerbach paper plant or the U.S. Steel foundry on the banks of the Sacramento. First the army, then a mill job — that’s the way the path was laid out in Antioch.

“You couldn’t get a job without your military experience out of the way,” said Richard Lackey. “The draft was going then, and companies were afraid you’d get taken. So virtually the entire class of ’61 went into the army.”

After the brothers graduated from high school a year apart, they joined the Army Reserve and did a tour of Europe together. That may have opened their eyes to a wider world than the San Joaquin Delta. They had their father’s blood in them. J.R. Mitchell was a gambler by profession, and he made his living playing low ball and Texas hold ’em out in the smoky back rooms of the East Bay. His good days were those on which everyone else got paid — he would feel like it was his payday, too. “I never knew anybody else around there who lived by gambling,” said a family friend, “but Jim and Artie’s daddy did it.”

It was Georgia Mae Mitchell who held the family together. A warmhearted, demonstrative woman, she was the Irish matriarch to the core, holding to that facility even today, as she is said to be working actively to keep the Mitchells’ frayed business empire together while her surviving son is on trial for his brother’s murder.

“I know Jim loved Art,” read her testimonial at Artie’s memorial service. “He took care of him all their lives.” If there was a single constant throughout the lives of both Jim and Artie, it was a strong sense of family — their roots in Antioch, and their own children. Together they had spawned a brood of nine kids from two marriages each, and a favorite theme of media stories about them was always the faintly demeaning marveling over how such good family men could be smut moguls. In May 1990, Artie almost drowned trying to save his son Storm, whom he thought was lost in a riptide off Ocean Beach, and Jim almost drowned trying to save Artie. Everyone wound up safe, and the Surf Rescue Squad that showed up got a $10,000 contribution and lifetime passes to the O’Farrell Theater.

The brothers’ roots in Antioch always held strong. They visited often and employed friends from back home in their theaters. Artie was buried without ceremony at Cherokee Memorial Park in Lodi, but 200 people showed up at a memorial service at Higgins Funeral Home in Antioch. The hometown turned out for one of its own. So did Marilyn Chambers, married and visibly pregnant.

The long road from Antioch started in the early sixties, in a local veterans’ hall where they saw their first stag film at an all-male smoker.

“One brother turned to the other and said, ‘Hey, bub — an old boy could make a lot of money with these movies,’” recalled an old friend. One brother turned to the other… Notice it’s unclear just who turned to whom, as if Jim and Artie were interchangeable. But if there was one brother who recognized a vein of gold when he uncovered it, it was Jim. “Jim started it, and Artie came in because there was so much work,” Lackey said. It’s easy to forget in the glare of high-profile films like Green Door, but the Mitchells made literally thousands of films, mostly short loops. Their first porn film, a softcore loop made with a 16-millimeter Bolex camera, sold for $6.

When they moved into the O’Farrell originally, they designed half of it to be used as a soundstage.

It was Jim who, in the mid-sixties, attended Diablo Valley College and then San Francisco State on the GI Bill. He stayed just long enough to pick up the rudiments of filmmaking. It was Jim who cajoled a bunch of Antioch High School graduates to come in on a production company-shooting, editing, and selling fuck films.

But Artie was necessary, too. “Party Artie,” they called him, and never did a handle fit a guy more. He was a smoker, a taker, and an all-night joker. Life was not a movable feast but a movable food fight for Artie, and he was always on hand to glad-hand and smooth the more silent, more brooding edges off of Jim. The mold was cast when the Mitchells were still churning out shit-quality loops with a hand-held camera. It was Jim who was behind that camera, and it was Artie who was playing grab-ass with the girls.

It probably would have ended there, if not for the kick-out-the-jams cultural uprising known as the Summer of Love. Where at one time Lenny Bruce had gotten busted for saying “cocksucker” on stage, now chicks were giving it away free on the Haight. Sex busted out of its closet, leapt over the gutter, and strolled buck-ass naked down Main Street. And the brothers were there to catch it all on film.

The Mitchells opened the O’Farrell Theater on a properly irreverent day, July 4, 1969, at a properly irreverent venue, a few blocks from San Francisco’s City Hall. There were live nude girls on stage and Mitchell Brothers’ films on-screen — and lines around the corner at show time. Some people saw it as a throwback to San Francisco’s rowdy days of the Barbary Coast, but the authorities were not amused. Three weeks after it opened, the place was raided by police.

This bust began one story line of the Mitchell Brothers’ saga, perhaps their most enduring claim to posterity. The Mitchell Brothers versus the Censors was a convoluted, long-running court case to rival something out of Dickens. At first the brothers were fighting for their lives and their livelihood. They wanted to stay out of jail, and to keep the O’Farrell’s marquee lit and the crowds lining up. Then something shifted.

“They decided they had to spend the dollars to fight these guys,” said school friend Richard Lackey. “It was a popular decision. People saw it as the Mitchell Brothers against the Man. If it cost $10,000 to make a point, Jim would do it.”

There’s nothing like the heavy touch of Big Brother for creating First Amendment idealists. Eventually, Jim and Artie would spend up to $500,000 a year on legal fees. Artie would say that of the $20 entry fee to the O’Farrell, $10 was taken right off the top to feed the barracudas in the suits.

Free speech became a cause beyond self-preservation. One of the most far-reaching court battles the Mitchells ever fought — and they had to fight it all the way to the Supreme Court — was one virtually no one knows about. In connection with Behind the Green Door, they established the right of sexually explicit material to enjoy copyright protection. This made adult entertainment marketable, and therefore lucrative, and led to the porn-film boom of the seventies. It is also the reason that the first thing you see on most porn videos is a stern F.B.I. warning against piracy. J. Edgar Hoover is turning over in his grave.

“Whatever else they did,” said Adult Video Association administrative director Gloria Leonard, “they put themselves and their money on the line when it came to standing WP for their rights.”

Much of the bread used to fight the good fight came from the Mitchell Brothers’ 1971 masterpiece, Behind the Green Door, produced for $60,000 and eventually pulling in $50 million. Not all of that went to the Mitchell Brothers, of course — such were the deceits of the porn-film distribution system of the time that Gerry Damiano, who made Deep Throat, never saw any of the $25 million it grossed. But the Mitchells were savvy enough to hold on to their copyright and market Green Door on video, with sales still going strong today.

Loosely based on Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse, Behind the Green Door is a surreal adventure of a girl who punches through the mundane to a world of fantasy sexuality. Jim and Artie can be seen in brief cameos: They’re the leather-jacketed duo who escort a blindfolded Marilyn Chambers into the White Room midway through the movie. Jim Mitchell put his rudimentary film training to good use, giving Green Door production values way beyond that of most adult films of the day — way beyond, for that matter, the videos of today.

But it wasn’t production values that made Green Door a giant hit. It was, in short, what Jim Mitchell called “ink” — publicity. If it weren’t for ink, Green Door would have been swallowed up in the avalanche of early-seventies porn films, and Jim and Artie would have been regional, not national, figures today. What spilled the ink was a woman named Marilyn Chambers, the star of Green Door. She showed up at the O’Farrell in answer to an open-call newspaper ad, and when she read the part in the questionnaire asking if the performer wanted a sexual or a nonsexual role, she decided to leave. Marilyn was a good little girl from Stamford, Connecticut — she had never done anything like that.

When Chambers turned to leave, there was Artie at the top of the stairs, near the Mitchell Brothers’ infamous office, yelling out for her to wait. Marilyn went up and was immediately won over by Jim and Artie’s easygoing sixties charm. Ten minutes later she had her shirt off and was posing for Polaroids. “We got along right from the start,” recalled Chambers. “They were easygoing and honest and on the same wavelength as I was, and I sensed that right away.” Once again, note the “they,” as if the brothers were one unit.

But even with Marilyn’s fresh good looks and Jim’s too-good-for-smut artistry with the camera, Green Door would have been dead without ink. Marilyn Chambers gave them that, too, or rather, she gave them the opportunity, and the Mitchells knew enough to run with it. Chambers was a model, and her photo was gracing the cover of Ivory Soap boxes when Green Door was about to be released. When she casually mentioned this fact to Jim and Artie, they fed the story to the wire services, and then sat back while the media went ape-shit. Marilyn was jerked from the stores (boxes of Ivory with her picture on it now sell for hundreds of dollars), and by the time the movie opened in New York City, the story was international news.

So it took the Summer of Love and the serendipity of a soap box to break the Mitchells from the pack, but once they were gone, they never looked back. High tide for their porn empire was 1974, when they had expanded their adult-theater chain to 11 venues, valued at $50 million. One of those theaters, in the straitlaced Southern California town of Santa Ana, was the largest-grossing adult venue in the world.

Yes, the good Santa Ana Republicans of Orange County liked their raunch, too, a fact that did not escape a self-appointed guardian of the public (but not his own) morals, Charles Keating, Jr. Keating was later to go down in flames for bilking the public of millions in the savings and loan scandal (Penthouse, August 1991). But back then his censorship organization, Citizens for Decency Through Law, was riding high, and he personally took it upon himself to close the Mitchells down. Jim and Artie had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they beat Charles Keating and his cronies cold in court. The Santa Ana Theater was not to close until 1990, when the Mitchell Brothers lost the lease.

What the shrill puritanism of Charles Keating failed to do, the video glut accomplished. By the early eighties, porn theaters were closing left and right as Americans took to the privacy of their bedroom VCRs. The Mitchells reacted with characteristic market savvy: They made their live-sex shows hotter. The windows came off the booths in the Ultra Room, and patrons could tip a dancer — the boys called them the “Ultralettes” — a buck for a pussy lick. The Mitchell Brothers lured in Japanese tourists by the bus load.

The O’Farrell is a quieter place today. For a short period after the murder, a sign reading “Closed Due to a Death in the Family” was hung on the door, but then it was back to business as usual. Constant police surveillance has forced strict rules upon the dancers: In the Green Door Theater, where porn films grind out endlessly on the screen, dancers circulate for lap dances at a buck a minute, three-buck minimum. But when a patron reaches up to catch a feel, “Sheri” will politely but firmly tell him to keep his hands to himself. She’s grinding pelvis with you, but you’re not allowed to touch!

In the Ultra Room, the window separating the patron in the booth and the buck-ass-naked girls on stage is firmly in place. The dancers will press their pussy to the Plexiglas, they’ll RotoRoot their personal plumbing with dildos, but the quarter-inch separating you from them might as well be a mile.

In the O’Farrell’s heyday, everything was different. In other parts of the theater, dancers were taking showers with patrons, and Artie was renting out flashlights to all the amateur gynecologists in the audience. But it was in the Ultra Room that the primal male fantasy of sex in the raw was realized.

There were always six or eight women circulating the small ten-by-20-foot stage. A patron would choose a booth from the 30 surrounding the dancers, lock himself in, and feed the slot in front of him with quarters. The door would raise mechanically, and the mook would ready himself for the typical peep-show experience.

But he got something else — he fragrant meatus of a living, liquid pussy, inches from his nose. Hand over enough bills and he could bury his face in it. Or slobber all over big, California-girl suckems. Or just stare as the girl talked dirty talk to him, reaming out her body cavities all the while. It was the apotheosis of fast-food sex. It coaxed gun loads of genetic material from the anonymous trousers in the booth, as well as something else. The quarters and dollars tumbled out in a steady stream. It was a challenge to any man to keep his bankroll while hot snatch was being waved in front of him.

There was only one hard-and-fast rule that always held sway in the O’Farrell: The dick stays in the pants. But in the early eighties, in the privacy of the Ultra Room’s booths, there were no rules at all.

It was in this period that Hunter S. Thompson, writing for the Examiner, became “night manager” of the O’Farrell. His function was to lend legitimacy to the macho, occasionally brutish atmosphere backstage. That atmosphere goes a long way to belie the image of the Mitchells as a couple of laid-back sixties dudes, keeping the “love” in Free Love. Many women at the O’Farrell experienced harassment and violent treatment at the hands of an out-of-control Artie Mitchell. Artie’s attitude was very clear: What’s the fun of owning a porn theater if you can’t grab all the tits you want? If you worked for Artie, you were fair game.

The Mitchells always liked to say that the O’Farrell represented one big, extended family, and many of the girls loved the brothers and loved working there. But it is clear that if it was a family, it was a dysfunctional one.

The inner sanctum was the Mitchells’ upstairs office at the O’Farrell, a good-time place where there was always a lot of beer in the fridge, vodka on ice, classic sixties rock ’n’ roll on the big Wurlitzer juke. No desks were in evidence, but there was a pool table. One or two members of their entourage could always be counted on to be there: Warren Hinckle, a local columnist; Dan O’Neill, a local cartoonist; Ron Turner of Last Gasp Comics; and Thompson, when he was in town.

“Artie rented out flashlights to all the amateur gynecologists in the audience. And in the Ultra Room, the primal male fantasy of sex in the raw was realized.”

In celebration of a monumental weight loss in 1981, I allowed myself to be lured on stage at the O’Farrell for the first time. Jim and Artie had set up what they said were a half-dozen girls for me to fuck. “Hold out till the last one,” Artie leered into my ear. “She’s a knockout. Remember, don’t come until the last one.” So I thought about ugly baseball players while I screwed five O’Farrell dancers. Jim and Artie were in the audience, drunk and stoned as usual, hooting and hollering.

I got ready for the sixth girl. Suddenly, Artie was beside me, looking like a cocaine leprechaun. “Sorry, Al,” he said. “The sixth girl called in sick.”

And the Mitchell Brothers both broke down laughing. This is how I knew them — a couple of frat boys who died and went to heaven in the porn business. They were perpetual teenagers. Much as they cajoled me, I could never imagine being in business with them. It would have been like going into business with Bill and Ted of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Both brothers married or went out with dancers they met at the O’Farrell. Kay Mitchell was a caterer for the Mitchell Brothers’ film The Autobiography of a Flea when she met her future husband, Artie. She later danced in the Ultra Room. After he was divorced from Kay, Artie would develop a curious form of serial monogamy coupled with peonage. He would take a dancer out, make her his official “girlfriend,” ask her to baby-sit his kids, and then disappear, partying for days on end. When one baby-sitter-girlfriend was fed up, another would take her place.

Jim was left to do the books, handle the business decisions, be the hard-ass. Throughout the eighties, the Mitchell Brothers’ business was slowly constricting. They made a few bad decisions — courageous, but bad — like putting a safe-sex spin on Behind the Green Door II, their big-budget sequel. They bet that America was ready for a film that featured midgets, freaks, and a 400-pound woman, as well as sex with condoms and dental dams. They lost their shirts.

There were a few high points left, as when San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein attempted to pour down her feminist fury upon the O’Farrell. In February 1985 she sent in some two-dozen police shock-troopers for a live appearance by Marilyn Chambers. Chambers was arrested, but no charges were filed. Throughout the early eighties, the Mitchell Brothers were charged with various offenses, but by 1986, after millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money had been wasted in court, the fiasco ended with no convictions at all. The Mitchells used to put Feinstein’s unlisted number up on the O’Farrell marquee. Feinstein would change it, and almost instantly, the boys would get the new number and put it up again.

Jim and Artie also had a huge $20,000 “Save the Whales” mural painted on the exterior walls of the O’Farrell, just to make sure everyone knew they were on the side of the angels. In May 1990 they organized a car convoy from San Francisco to Aspen, Colorado, blowing into town to show their support for friend Hunter S. Thompson and his brief brush with drug charges. By that time, though, it was already over. The 11-theater chain, the majority of which the brothers had owned outright, had shrunk to two rental places, the O’Farrell and the Electric. The glory days had passed. Maybe Artie didn’t know it yet, but Jim did. After his second divorce, he turned increasingly sour. The war in the Persian Gulf made him furious, and he launched a periodical, War News, to oppose it. He brooded about the future of the nation, despairing that the Japanese were coming in and buying everything up.

I caught a whiff of this seriousness when I ran into Jim and Artie at the Cannes Film Festival in the early eighties. Artie was clearly out of control. The first thing he did upon seeing me was grab hold of the starlet I was with and begin dry-humping her. I thought this was okay, especially since I wanted to dry-hump the woman he was with. Jim was the one looking around to make sure the photographers did not catch this disgraceful display.

“I always thought I’d like France,” I remember Jim telling me. “It’s too much like America. Do you know what our hotel room is costing?”

There he was, in the middle of the glamour circus of Cannes, a millionaire worrying about his hotel bill. On his arrival Artie had immediately announced that he was a “pornographer,” taking a fiendish delight in epater le bourgeois. But Jim seemed different; uneasily sat the crown of sleaze upon his brow. He was always talking about the mainstream films he wanted to make.

“Jim Mitchell often frightens people,” reads a passage from Burning Desires: Sex in America, by Steve Chapple and David Talbot. They go on to draw a disturbing portrait of an end-of-the-decade Jim Mitchell:

“His face was harder than his brother’s; his eyes are black rather than blue, and smaller. Jim Mitchell doesn’t drink much these days, and he doesn’t make jokes about eating pussy or why big, spongy dicks never get hard…. What Jim likes to talk about is money, usually big money or the sorry state of America.”

Money. Could it be the Mitchells were going down? The money had always been there, fueling their lifestyles, providing grease for the friction between them, buying the vodka and pot and coke that Artie used to establish a proper kick-out-the-jams tone. They had families to. support. They had each other to support. The money was always going to be there, wasn’t it? Had the extended family become overextended? Artie seemed oblivious, lost in a haze of vodka and Colombian reefer. But it’s very possible that his headlong dive into drugs might have been an attempt to find refuge from something he just couldn’t face: the breakup of the Mitchell Brothers.

All through their lives, it had always been Jim fronting for Artie, Jim pulling Artie out of the riptide, Jim providing the coattails for Party Artie to dance on. Even in 1990, even as it all crashed down around their ears, Jim let Artie take a $50,000 bonus out of the depleted coffer of the O’Farrell.

But Jim knew that sooner or later Artie would have to face facts; that when their empire started to crumble, they might have to redefine their relationship a little. Maybe they would both have to put their shoulders to the wheel, instead of just Jim. Maybe there was a wee bit of resentment there, built up over the years — the resentment of the ant for the grasshopper.

The Mitchell Brothers planned to break up their business, give Artie half the proceeds, and go their separate ways: Jim would stay with the theater, Artie would go on a six-month recovery trip to Mexico. He would be welcomed back to the O’Farrell, of course, but the official era of the name-in-lights Mitchell Brothers was at an end. Jim was going to start a seafood restaurant.

The breakup had all the appearance of smoothness, and inner-circle friends used words like “amicable “ to describe it. But the separation of Siamese twins always involves blood. In the days before he died, Artie left rambling, snarling messages on Jim’s answering machine, vowing to do violence to Jim and his new girlfriend if the break-up of the Mitchell Brothers’ corporation wasn’t handled right. “I’ll fuck you both up,” Artie promised.

“I think Artie wanted it to happen,” Lackey said, speaking of the murder. “Jim just pulled the trigger, but they were so close, it was really suicide. Artie really knew how to find people’s buttons. He probably said a few things that incensed Jim — who is not a violent guy.”

But Jim Mitchell’s emotions ran quiet — and very deep. He appeared to be “normal “ just minutes before he drove to Corte Madera and wound up being arrested for his brother’s murder. “Everything seemed to be all right,” said Mitchell Brothers insider Ron Turner, who was with Jim Mitchell on the night of the killing, when the two of them were working on an issue of War News in the basement of the future restaurant.

He may have been a great porn moguI, but Artie Mitchell did not leave much of an estate. The lawyers had taken it, his various jones had taken it. He had $30,000 in cash, plus a 45 percent share in Cinema 7, Inc., the brothers’ corporation, worth about $270,000. Artie also had a $200,000 pension plan and a life insurance policy worth a million dollars. Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, he may have been worth more dead than alive.

Artie’s desperate little tract house in Corte Madera — a low, shabby bungalow with a couple of unlikely solar panels perched on top, set behind a shopping center — was hardly the mansion of a rich man. Kay Mitchell says Artie followed her about the Bay Area as she moved, taking their kids with her. Wherever she went, he went too. He just wanted to be close to his children. When the .22 bullets cut him down, they winged down the hallway past framed photos of Artie’s kids. Jim Mitchell, of course, was in many of them.

The last time I saw Jim and Artie Mitchell was in January 1991, a month before the murder. They were being given an award by the Adult Video Association, and they showed up together at the black-tie media event in Los Angeles. Watching them at the podium, it was impossible to avoid noting their disintegrative state. First a crapulous Artie Mitchell got up and mumbled incoherently into the microphone. Then Jim nudged Artie out of the way (it didn’t take much) and began screaming at someone in the audience. It was an unsettling performance, but it also seemed to me that Jim Mitchell’s outburst was an attempt to cover up Artie’s incoherence.

A duo is a hard act to maintain — just ask Martin and Lewis, Simon and Garfunkel, the Fabulous Baker Boys. Someone is always pulling his side of the yoke harder. Mom always likes someone best. There’s always one leader and one follower, even though in the eyes of the world you are one. I remember when I first met them, I always got Jim and Artie confused. They were both bearded then, and the camouflage helped obliterate the difference in their faces. At the end, Jim shaved off his beard while Artie kept his. The amoeba was splitting.

But the pressures of being the Mitchell Brothers probably would have stopped short of murder, were it not for the guns. The brothers always had a lot of ordnance around them, and Artie had only recently been disarmed of a .38 in Maye’s Original Oyster House, a restaurant near the O’Farrell.

In Dead Ringers, there is a wrenching scene where one twin wakes up after a long drug binge to find that he has killed his brother. Pathetically, he keeps calling his twin’s name, even though the corpse is in the same room with him, hoping to summon his other half back from the dead. By all accounts, Jim Mitchell is distraught over Artie’s death. If he was trying to kill anything, he was aiming at the Mitchell Brothers — capital “M,” capital “B” — the entity that had dogged him all his life. The trial of Jim Mitchell, slated to begin very soon, is supposed to tell us the truth about what went on that night in Corte Madera. But the lawyer’s truth and the larger truth of Jim and Artie Mitchell are two different things. There was nobody else who came up from Antioch and lived through all the busts and bust-outs at the O’Farrell with them. No one else was there every step of the way — just the two of them. Usually Siamese twins don’t die of fright in the middle of the night. They die when you separate them.

As one might imagine, the Adult Entertainment Industry has a long — and perhaps infamous — history in the Bay Area. San Francisco State University has even compiled news footage from the early “modern” years should you be interested. … At the right universities, one can study some very interesting things. … And should you now be curious about the outcome of the trial, completed now nearly 30 years ago, Jim got (essentially) six years for manslaughter and gun charges, of which he served four. Jim died at home about 10 years after his release.