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Jim Mitchell Memorial Held in Antioch

Pioneering adult filmmaker is honored

Jim Mitchell Memorial Held in Antioch
ANTIOCH, Calif. - An estimated 300 people gathered at the Higgins Chapel on Thursday to remember pioneering adult filmmaker Jim Mitchell, who died of an apparent heart attack on July 12 at his ranch near Petaluma.

Mitchell was laid to rest beside his brother and business partner Art, with whom he founded San Francisco's legendary O'Farrell Theatre in 1969. The Mitchell Brothers went on to produce such adult film classics as Behind the Green Door (starring Ivory Snow girl Marilyn Chambers and porn's first black superstud Johnny Keyes), The Resurrection of Eve and Autobiography of a Flea. The brothers' partnership ended in 1991 when Jim shot Art to death in what he claimed was a confrontation over Art's drug and alcohol abuse.

Among the Bay Area notables in attendance at the hour-long memorial were former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, ex-District Attorney Terrence Hallinan, Mitchell's trial attorney Michael Kennedy, political operative Jack Davis and former San Francisco Chronicle reporter Warren Hinckle.

Born Nov. 30, 1943 in Stockton, Calif., Mitchell grew up in nearby Antioch and went on to study film at San Francisco State College. He began selling amateur nudie photos as a student, then progressed to shooting loops during the late '60s. While the Mitchell Brothers have been credited as a major force in the sexual revolution, Jim Mitchell had no illusions about his films. At the height of his porn success, he famously remarked: "The only Art in this business is my brother."

Several speakers at Thursday's memorial addressed the relationship between Jim and Art Mitchell. For many who knew the Mitchell Brothers, it became impossible to speak of one without mentioning the other.

"I spoke here 16 years ago, and it was very difficult because I was trying to talk about Art, but every time I tried to say 'Art' I kept saying 'Art and Jim,' said O'Farrell Theatre manager Jeff Armstrong.

"We all owe personal liberties and rights to the brothers that they fought for on our behalf," Davis said. "To be best friends with Artie and to be best friends with Jimmy was an extraordinary thing.

According to Kennedy, Jim Mitchell's three-year prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter saved his life.

"Artie was the fucking lunatic -- he was doing more cocaine and alcohol," he said. "Why in the hell would Jimmy want to kill his brother? [Jim] felt so bad ... if somebody hadn't stepped in like that jury did, he would have killed himself. Killing Artie changed his life."

Hinckle recalled the Mitchell Brothers' battle with San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who attempted to shut down the O'Farrell during the '80s. The brothers responded by placing Feinstein's unlisted phone number on the O'Farrell marquee under the message: "For A Good Time Call..."

Judy Foster, who stripped at the O'Farrell for 11 years under the name Katrina, said: "It was the best time of my life. They had to kick me out of there. It's so great growing up being a slutty girl and having a place to go and be accepted."

"He was the best boss ever," added another dancer who currently strips at the theatre under the name Kimberly Rio. "He created a safe, classy environment and enabled many of the girls to do other things, like go to school and get degrees. I bought property."

The service ended with a live performance of the Frank Sinatra standard "My Way" and the release of a flock of doves. The San Francisco Chronicle described the memorial as "the end of a glorious time of sexual freedom, political high jinks and fun" for many of the attendees who experienced the Mitchell Brothers' heyday.

Jim Mitchell's son Raef recalled his father's words: "He always told me, 'Son, I'm not the greatest man. I'm not perfect. Don't try to be the greatest man. Just be a man.'"
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