Liberty Bradford Mitchell has lived in L.A. for 15 years. She's the mother of two and a sometime yoga instructor who has dabbled in theater — acting and writing — on and off since college.
She's also the progeny of the Mitchell brothers — the notorious porn moguls who ran the Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater strip club in San Francisco and produced adult films, including Behind the Green Door, the most famous '70s skin flick after Deep Throat.
In her recent one-woman show, The Pornographer's Daughter, Bradford Mitchell delved into the decades she spent on the edges of the X-rated business, its heady mix of sex and drugs culminating in the murder of her dad, Artie, at the hands of his brother, Jim.
The Mitchell family, she says, lived on society's fringes long before her dad and uncle were peddling sex — her Okie grandfather was a professional gambler. While at San Francisco State University, film student Jim started making dirty movies, soon enlisting Artie. In 1969, at the height of the free-love era, the two opened the O'Farrell, eventually adding live sex shows. A year later, Artie Mitchell and his wife, a lawyer, had their first child. Fittingly, they named her Liberty.
In her play, Bradford Mitchell recalls one of the countless trips she made to "the office" — the strip club — where, as a child, she walked into a screening room and watched a couple having intercourse on film. It was her first exposure to sex. "Just another day making naked movies," Bradford Mitchell tells the audience. Her parents never did fill her in on the birds and the bees, she continues, and "Judy Blume just wasn't cutting it.
"That was the irony of my upbringing," Bradford Mitchell says at an interview at Lola's in Hollywood. "Yes, my parents were sexual revolutionaries, but when it came to giving me 'the talk,' I never got it. Never discussed getting my period. It's interesting how they reverted into that WASP-y model that my mother was raised with: 'We just don't talk about it.' "
After a fourth-grade teacher discovered her father's occupation, Bradford Mitchell and her two biological siblings (Artie had a total of six kids) dropped the surname Mitchell. They often told friends their dad was a commercial fisherman. "I had to lie and keep my guard," she says.
It wasn't until Bradford Mitchell went to USC in the late '80s to study theater that she began opening up about the family business. "At some point it came up," Bradford Mitchell says. "Just flippantly came out. Of course, the guys thought that was marvelous."
For the record, Bradford Mitchell doesn't like porn. "I appreciate erotica in other forms," she says. "But it's just never interested me. I really romanticized love growing up. I was into classic cinema and old movie stars. Also, there's the fact that I came of age in the mid-'80s, during the AIDS crisis. Suddenly sex can kill you. Our generation didn't benefit like our parents did of having free love. And part of it was feeling like my parents stole my sexual thunder in a way, because they were so out there. Of course I'm gonna be kind of a nerd in comparison."
There were times, however, when Bradford Mitchell took part in the seedy fun. For the play, she dug up a cringe-worthy video of her dancing onstage to 2 Live Crew's "Me So Horny" at the 1991 AVN Awards. "I was going through a metamorphosis," she says. "I'd always been the leadership student and the good girl. My dad encouraged me to get out of my shell."
That same year, at 20, Bradford Mitchell got a call telling her that her uncle Jim had shot and killed her father in his home.
The two had had a strained relationship for years: Jim often was characterized as the stable, responsible brother, and "Party Artie" as the out-of-control, drug-addicted brother. At one point, Artie was even banned from the O'Farrell. Jim claimed he'd gone to his brother's house to conduct an intervention.
Jim Mitchell served just three years of his six-year prison sentence. (Bradford Mitchell quips that the only way her uncle kept "his sphincter intact" during his incarceration was by offering prison guards lifetime passes to the O'Farrell.)
Artie Mitchell's daughter never saw her uncle again. He died of a heart attack in 2007.