The following comes from a Feb. 1 story on Salon.com.
You don’t imagine a child at the Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theater. It is a place, after all, that Hunter S. Thompson called “the Carnegie Hall of public sex in America.” A place known in the ’70s for drugs, fully nude lap dances and live sex shows. But Liberty Bradford Mitchell spent plenty of her childhood visiting her father, Artie Mitchell, at the legendary San Francisco strip club. She was introduced to porn and G-strings before kindergarten.
Incredibly, that is perhaps the least remarkable aspect of her family history. Artie and brother Jim directed and produced the 1972 porn classic Behind the Green Door infamously starring Ivory Snow girl Marilyn Chambers. They produced porn upstairs at the O’Farrell, showed the films downstairs and eventually introduced live entertainment. As a result, they fought more than 200 obscenity cases – when they weren’t partying and making millions. In the end, Jim shot Artie dead with a rifle, for reasons that remain unclear.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, Bradford Mitchell has swung in the opposite direction of her father. She’s a fan of the work of controversial psychologist Melissa Farley, a self-described prostitution abolitionist. She feels passionately about the blight of sex trafficking, which she ties to the adult industry. Needless to say, she is no fan of pornography. At the same time, she speaks highly of the Mitchell brothers’ work and allows, “I’m all for whatever floats your boat, as long as everyone involved is safe and consenting.” It isn’t easy to find one’s own identity in the shadow of an infamous father.
She’s turned her personal story into a one-woman show, The Pornographer’s Daughter, which is currently playing in San Francisco. Salon spoke with Mitchell by phone about what it’s like to be exposed to porn at such a young age, her feelings about her father’s legacy and how she’s made sense of his murder.
When did you first find out what your dad did for a living?
I remember having an awareness of it when I was around 3 or 4 that he made naked movies, which I thought was really hilarious. I think I imagined more like naked cartoons or something.
When was the first time that you saw pornography?
Growing up, I’d go to the O’Farrell Theater, we’d stop by the office when we were in the city. When I was 4 and a half, I became really cognizant of what I was viewing on the screen in the screening room. I describe that experience in the play of the first time I locked in on a full-screen close-up of a penis and vagina in coitus. I thought, “What are they doing? This is not what I thought a naked movie would look like.” At the time it wasn’t so disturbing to me, it was just very weird.
Once I was the age of 6 or 7 I was much more conscious that this was not stuff that I should be seeing and it did not make me comfortable when I was by the office, especially at the point where the theater went live and there were dancers that were basically naked walking around. None of it was really explained to me. There was no thoughtful conversation about sexuality and pornography and its role in the world. Especially when I was much younger, I think my father figured, “Oh, she doesn’t even know what she’s looking at.” That was true, for a good amount of time.
I know now that was the culture of the ’70s. A lot of kids were reared in the ’70s with progressive parents — they lived on nudist colonies or communes. There was a lot of interesting experimental living going on in those days.
Did you have classmates at school who knew who your dad was?
Very few. I kept it very secret. I did have a best friend in fourth grade who knew. Once I was in junior high, I was completely closeted about what my dad did. I changed my name, I was very shy. I was not in a space to stand up and be brave and say, “My dad’s a pornographer, big deal.”
It was complicated. I loved my father. We had a lot of fun as a family. We had a lot of dysfunction as well — but who didn’t in divorced California families of the ’70s?…
You came to see your early exposure to pornography as abuse. How did that shift in your thinking happen?
What happened was I worked as a yoga instructor and had to do an online child abuse training. I was going through the motions and at some point something about pornography came up on the screen and it said, “Exposure of pornography to a minor is a form of sexual abuse.” It really struck me. I’d never thought about it like that and then it seemed so obvious once I read it. There was something about putting it in that context, it made me feel better. I know that I wasn’t intentionally abused by this exposure — and compared to what a lot sexual abuse survivors have gone through it’s child’s play — but it was for me psychologically inhibiting and scary.
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