I’m not going to call this a review because it has taken the shape of some thoughts on a book. So let’s call it that. Some thoughts on Simone Corday’s 9 ½ Years Behind the Green Door. Many thanks to Simone for taking the time to do this. The lady on the cover of Simone’s book (left) is not Simone. She told me she wanted “an image of a confident, sensual dancer who might work at the Mitchell Brothers or at other strip clubs.” The photos. Black and white is HST with Simone on the left. The color one at the bottom has Art on the left, Simone on the right with some of Art’s and Jim’s kids. The portrait is of Simone herself. If you want to buy the book you can get it here Enjoy.
Simone Corday, MA in English, author and former dancer at the famed Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre in San Francisco. Jim and Artie Mitchell opened O’Farrell Theatre on July 4 1969. It quickly became the place to be in San Francisco for lovers of all things sex. Hunter Thompson called it “The Carnegie Hall of public sex in America.”
I have been looking at old reviews of Simone’s book 9 ½ Years Behind the Green Door. I want to steer clear of the trite first line like “Corday was a stripper, dancer “etc. Why? Because there’s more to ladies of this ilk than meets the eye, at least the ones that I have met over the years. During my time in London in 1986 sleeping rough, I was never short of a coffee or burger – complements of the dancers at a local spit on the floor strip joint. They worked hard, letting the fat, greasy, drunken horde maul them for a few extra quid. Looking back on it, these girls could play the slobs like BB King could play guitar. The girls went home with some cash, and the slobs went home with nothing but lint and a feeble, cholesterol fueled hard-on in their pockets.
On their way home the girls would stop-by my bench /bed with a coffee or something to eat. We’d chat for a while, they’d give me the low-down on their night and I on mine. It killed an hour, I got fed and they got to unwind. They were a special sort of person, strong-willed, compassionate and no nonsense. They made my time in London that bit easier.
In 1981 Simone walked into a world of sex, drugs, debauchery and whatever else that went with the Mitchell Brother territory – in particular Artie Mitchell. She became his long time, long suffering lover – putting up with more than anyone should, but in a misshapen way they became locked in a bond many would envy. Until that is when Artie was brutally murdered by his brother Jim in 1991. And for all intents and purposes got away with it, serving only 3 years in prison.
The point of the book for the most part concentrates on her relationship with Artie and his death; although sex is prevalent it doesn’t take away from the purpose. They were wild in their own different ways, and that mix makes it hard to stop reading. He strikes me as being a cruel man without realising it or meaning to be. With a constant haze of sex and drugs clouding his brain, he comes across as sometimes needy and insecure with sudden flashes of brilliance and confidence. He was a handful to cope with but Simone was prepared to deal with it, and did so for nearly 10 years.
Hunter S. Thompson a friend of the Mitchell brothers drifts in and out of this story. Reading it I can imagine him bounding around with his usual bow-legged gait, doing what he did best – plamasing everyone in sight, looking like he owned the place. He was at O’Farrell to do research for a Playboy article (which was never published.) He was dubbed “Night Manager” A title I‘m sure he relished. He loved being around people, he loved to enjoy himself with the help of whatever substance happened to be around, and where better than O’Farrell Theatre. The Mitchell brothers were responsible for the making of the documentary “The Crazy Never Die.” You can see it here .
Simone told me.. “Hunter hadn’t been satisfied with the Mitchell project, (The Crazy Never Die) and although there are a few copies around, it was never properly released. There had been a lot of problems with the sound. They had filmed it themselves with a skeleton crew, and everyone involved had been drunk or high. Hunter was filmed speaking to large crowds at college campuses, but there was almost no recorded sound. It had been impossible to recapture the dialogue and the questions and reactions of people. The night I was at the filming at Tosca Hunter delivered a hilarious monologue, but it was never recorded.”
For me it’s a nice change to read a book that includes Hunter but is not about him, you get to see another side of him. It’s hard to put a fine point on it, I guess read the book and make up your own mind. Even though Hunter’s presence in the story is a selling point, that doesn’t mean the book can’t stand alone without him. It’s a fascinating and sometimes disturbing account of a unique partnership ending in devastating circumstances, with little justice.
Last month the O’Farrell Theater was in the news again for the wrong reasons. Jim Mitchell’s son, James Raphael Mitchell, was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend on the second anniversary of his father’s death on July 12, and is now in Marin County Jail.
MF.. Why did you wait so long to publish the book?
SC.. Right after Artie Mitchell was shot to death by his brother Jim in 1991, several journalists tried to get book deals on the Mitchell brothers and two succeeded. As a first-time author, I had trouble finding a publisher, but I also delayed publishing my book because I was afraid of Jim Mitchell. During his prosecution for murder, Jim had considerable financial resources that funded his $1.3 million defense, and he had a lot of support from local politicians and journalists. There was a lot of publicity about the shooting being accidental, about it being an intervention to force Art into rehab that had gone awry. Since I followed the case closely and believed Jim was guilty of pre-meditated murder, I was outspoken against him on TV and in interviews, gave depositions in the insurance case that followed, and I got the message that Jim was not pleased. I was shocked when Jim was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and received only a 6-year sentence, and he was allowed to remain out of jail pending his appeal for 3 ½ years. In 1994 he lost his appeal and was sent to prison. He served 3 years, and was out by 1997. When he unexpectedly died of a heart attack in 2007, I knew it was time to publish.
Because I worked on my book for so long, I made it more concise, and was able to include events that unfolded in more recent years. It went through several revisions, but I always had faith in the book, and felt it was important to tell my story. I wanted to present an authentic, backstage, behind-the-scenes picture of the O’Farrell Theater; what it was like to have a long-term relationship with Artie Mitchell, a legendary outlaw pornographer, player, and family-man with Okie roots; and relate the events that led up to his murder, and the repercussions of his death.
MF.. I know you said you were afraid of Jim but I just want to ask if you lived in fear of him after he was released?
SC.. Until Jim died in 2007, I was never comfortable publishing my book. When Art’s killing was new until Jim was sent to prison in 1994 I was more worried about Jim, but after he served three years in prison and was older I became less fearful, but still wary.
MF.. The reader gets a great feel of what goes on in a place like O’Farrell and it gives a good insiders view of the sex industry. Is there much about the O’Farrell that didn’t make it to print that perhaps in hindsight you’d have liked to add?
SC.. The O’Farrell had a shadowy, seductive mystique. It really deserves to be a character in its own right. I started out with a draft that was more than 800 pages, and it was tricky to know what to include and what to omit. So many sexy, funny, poignant things happened there every day. My picture of the sex industry comes from my experience at Mitchell Brothers, since I didn’t make films for other adult filmmakers and didn’t dance much at other clubs. I am happy with the end result for this book, although I am tempted to use some of the remaining material in another book.
MF.. Did you find it upsetting or maybe even therapeutic rehashing the past when putting the book together?
SC.. During the first couple of years after Artie was killed and all the dreadful court proceedings took place, working on my book helped save my sanity. I didn’t find the process of writing my own story upsetting—at the time a lot of inaccurate news stories and Jim’s murder trial played out in the press and on T.V., and these were very upsetting. I had kept a journal, with some written portions and about 50 audio journal tapes, so I had the details of the events of the years I was writing about. I did have to insert my reflections on the events, and organize and shape the material. As time went on, I could look at the ingredients of the book less as painful and more as material to tell my story.
MF.. Do you think there would have been hope for Art and his addiction if he was still around?
SC.. Art was a notorious hard-drinker and consumer of substances. But I believe that he could have detoxed had he not been murdered. He had a great deal to live for, including six children he loved dearly—his youngest was only 8 when Art was killed. His doing PR for the O’Farrell for 20 years, in that atmosphere of constant partying, contributed to his substance problems. He hadn’t bottomed out, in part because he had a good income and wasn’t in danger of losing a job. In the last year of his life, Art was getting sicker from alcoholism, but he hadn’t had a serious health scare yet where he was afraid of dying–nothing that would make him willing to be hospitalized and get treatment. Had he lived, I think that was coming within the following months.
MF.. What do you think Art would have said about you publishing the book?
SC.. I think Art would have liked the authenticity of the book, and would have enjoyed his voice coming through. And although I wrote about some of his very bad behavior, he would have been proud that the book showed that he had a positive side and was loved.
MF.. You became friends with Hunter, and you knew his work before you met him. Was he what you expected? Did you have any preconceived ideas about him?
SC.. I was astonished to meet Hunter in November 1984. No one at the O’Farrell had told me that he was arriving. Hunter and his beautiful, petite girlfriend Maria were watching the show from the tech booth high above the stage when I ran into them. I had read his books, and knew he had a phenomenal talent for satire and getting to the truth while entering into his stories, but I never thought about what Hunter the person would be like. He was unpretentious, incisive, very curious about the phenomenon of the O’Farrell and the performer-audience interaction that was taking place, and the efforts then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein was making to close down the place.
One of my shows was an imitation of the mayor, and Hunter got a kick out of that. He was at least 6’3”, handsome, balding, with a gangly gait, often with a cigarette in a holder, jutting at a rakish angle from his mouth. He was respectful of the dancers, and kind to me. I was very flattered that he enjoyed my theme shows and told me he thought of my gorilla show as “the rape of innocence by pornography.”
The next summer a photographer was sent by Vanity Fair—they were planning to do a series of photos of people smoking, and Hunter was on their list. Hunter asked me and another dancer to pose for the photo in the O’Farrell dressing room. This picture is included in the book Gonzo, by Hunter Thompson, the collection of Hunter’s photos and memorabilia (Ammo Books). I was lucky to get permission from the photographer Michael Nichols’s representatives, to print it in my book.
When I was fired for 3 months prior to the filming of Behind the Green Door, the Sequel, Hunter wrote a memo praising my shows and calling me the “spirit of the O’Farrell.” I was touched. Although Hunter hung out with Art and Jim and partied with them, Hunter held himself apart, and preserved his journalistic integrity. For about 2 1/2 years, Hunter alternated making extended visits to the San Francisco area with leaving for a few months at a time. Beginning in 1986, he was writing weekly columns for the San Francisco Examiner (that later were collected in his book Generation of Swine), and it seemed a struggle to meet his deadlines. I spent a day with Hunter and Maria when he was working on a column on the Meese Commission report on porn, and he included part of my interview.
After Hunter got an advance to write a novel on the O’Farrell, Art and Jim began referring to him affectionately as the “Night Manager,” but Hunter thought of himself as more of a consultant, and provided them with that great line Mitchell Brothers still displays on their marquee, calling the theater “the Carnegie Hall of public sex in America.”
It would have been challenging for Hunter to write a book on the Mitchells and on the O’Farrell. Since his forte was satire, he must have found ample material around the place. But I don’t think Art or Jim would have been happy with a gonzo depiction of themselves, even though they understood it would have brought them fabulous, lasting publicity. They did begin filming their only non-sex movie, The Crazy Never Die, with Hunter in 1987—but there were problems with it and Hunter didn’t approve of the end result. There are a few copies around, and some footage from that movie have turned up in the documentary Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride, and a short scene shows up in Alex Gibney’s film Gonzo.
MF.. Did Hunter have a favorite between Art and Jim?
SC.. Art was so accustomed to being the wildest, most macho presence at the O’Farrell, that he seemed a bit jealous of Hunter–since Hunter had a legendary reputation for partying, and a respected journalistic career that eclipsed porn. Hunter was critical of Art’s bad behavior towards me, and he seemed to prefer Jim’s more sedate persona. When Jim and Art took a caravan of people to Aspen to show support during Hunter’s trial in 1990, Hunter was very appreciative. But I think Hunter was suspicious of the way each of the Mitchells treated people—for good reason. After Jim shot Art to death, their acquaintances rallied to Jim’s support—but Hunter never made any public statements about the killing. Unlike one hundred of Jim’s acquaintances who wrote letters pleading for leniency at Jim’s sentencing, Hunter never did.
MF.. I’m curious as to what Hunter would have thought about this book, what do you think he’d have said?
SC.. Hunter had a great curiosity about the milieu of the O’Farrell and knew it was a worthy subject—but Jim killing Art had to have complicated the problems of writing about it for him. There are a few pages about his time at the O’Farrell in his book Kingdom of Fear. I hope Hunter would have been pleased because my story is genuine, and I tried to tell it well and truthfully.
MF.. Did you have much (if any) contact with Hunter after the O’Farrell days?
SC.. By the time my relationship with Artie was intensifying, Hunter was only visiting the O’Farrell occasionally. Since Artie was jealous of the admiration I felt for Hunter, he didn’t invite me when Hunter was around, and it would have been risky for me to continue the connection. Then after Artie died, everyone was in shock. I took it hard and felt that Jim was guilty, but I never heard how Hunter felt about the killing.
MF.. Will you write another book? A novel maybe?
SC.. Yes, I am planning to write another book, and I would love to write a novel. The sex business provided me so much drama and material it would be a pity to waste it.
© Martin Flynn hstbooks 2009.