Liberty Bradford Mitchell grew up in the shadow of the adult entertainment industry. Her father was Artie Mitchell, who, along with his brother Jim, opened the San Francisco strip club Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theatre in 1969. The club was praised by Playboy magazine and Hunter S. Thompson, famously despised by Dianne Feinstein during her tenure as mayor, and was one of the first strip clubs to offer fully nude lap dances.
The brothers also released several adult films, including the groundbreaking Behind the Green Door, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival. But their story turned tragic in 1991, when Jim shot and killed Artie.
Mitchell recalls growing up with this pornographic dynasty, and the circumstances surrounding her father's death, in her new solo show, The Pornographer's Daughter. She recently agreed to answer a few questions for SF Weekly.
With so much history at the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater, how did you decide what to put in the show?
The show is about my experience, personally, growing up as the pornographer's daughter. I do give some tentpole reference to the theater, but really it's my personal experience growing up in my family. I just try to speak for myself.
How did growing up around that industry shape your perception of it?
That's the bulk of (the play). I think it's kind of the backlash. My parents were really free loving and radical, but for me, I had a hard time coping with that as a kid. I've always been a late bloomer. For me, having grown up in that world, it caused me to be a lot more inhibited.
The Mitchell Brothers changed the nature of adult films with Behind the Green Door, and their theater was visited by everyone from Hunter S. Thompson to Dianne Feinstein. There were also numerous court battles and "obscenity" charges. Were you aware of the impact they were having at the time?
I was definitely aware that my father and the Mitchell Brothers made a big impact on San Francisco. It really wasn't until after my father was killed and there were worldwide reports on it that I realized what a bigger impact they had on the industry in general. There was kind of an understanding that my father wasn't an average person, but it wasn't like he was an Erik Estrada or anything. I knew he was known, but it didn't register to me, because it was an adult world.
Dianne Feinstein though, I don't believe she ever went in to the O'Farrell. She just spent a good amount of time trying to get it closed. She definitely didn't hang out there.
Is it true that your father once put her number on the marquee?
He did do the phone number gag, because the vice squad was on them. They had some mole at the mayor's office who was able to get her personal phone number and they changed the marquee to: "For Showtimes Call Mayor Feinstein." I'm sure my father would roll in his grave though, because I voted for her. Twice.
How did it affect the family dynamics when your uncle murdered your father?
Well it really disrupted it, to put it mildly. It was devastating on so many levels. They had always been seemingly inseparable, and we had been raised in our family that their relationship was paramount. But, of course, we often have perceptions of things that are not always spot on.
It blew our family apart completely. Our uncle only served three years in jail, and once he was out, I never saw my cousins again. He basically forbid contact with our side of the family, with my sisters and I, because we didn't buy that it was an accident.
Did you have any sort of reconciliation after his release from prison?
No. He never sought forgiveness, and never expressed remorse to me. Honestly, I was never that close with him, even before he killed my dad. He wasn't a very warm person. There was no relationship with him, other than veiled hostility from his side, but so it goes.
But I don't want to give the impression that the play is about the murder. Certainly, it's part of the story, but it's more of a family drama and a coming of age story. It's a fun piece in a lot of ways.
Have you been to the O'Farrell Theatre as an adult?
Yes. Last time I went I met my cousin there and we went for lunch. Sometimes I did go there; in the late nineties I went once or twice. It's difficult. It was never a place where I spent a lot of time anyway.
How does it compare to the old days?
Well it was different because what had been the office was the pool table, and where all the parties had been was just a regular office. There was a nice picture gallery downstairs. It looked like they tried to give it some historical credence.