Harassment of Pornographic Actors & Actresses Since the Sexual Revolution in San Francisco

Historical Essay

by Russell Hutson

The rise of the pornographic industry in San Francisco during the sexual revolution of the 1960s through the 1980s had many profound effects on society. With its ascent, however, came anti-sex opposition, prejudice, and discrimination against actors/actresses due to the nature of their work. This resistance continues to magnify into present day, and manifests itself through harassments in social media and state-wide anti-sex campaigns.

By the mid-to-late 1960s, the sexual revolution in San Francisco was well underway. This was a period in which individuals were freely expressing their sexuality and use of their bodies, such as through pornography and promiscuous shows. With topless acts such as Carol Doda spreading like wildfire throughout the Barbary Coast and Tenderloin in 1964, nude performances were increasing in the city (Sides, 47). Fast-forward a couple years to July of 1969. The Mitchell Brothers, quite possibly the most notorious siblings in San Francisco during this period, opened their O’Farrell Theater.

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Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater at Polk and O'Farrell, 1974.

Photo © Joey Harrison

Jim and Artie Mitchell could be considered some of the forefathers of the pornographic industry due to the risks they took. For example, their theatre was the first in the nation to offer all-nude ‘lap-dances’, while at the same time remaining alcohol-free. However, what made the brothers famous worldwide was their decision to screen their own films in their theatre. Rather than hire prostitutes for their pornographic films, which was common at the time, the two decided to hire well-to-do young hippie women which they hoped would entice large audiences (Sides, 55). Their first big hit, Behind the Green Door (1972), featured Marilyn Chambers, a nineteen-year-old beauty who had recently starred in a widely popular laundry commercial shown across the nation.

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Marilyn Chambers, star of Mitchell Brothers first porn hit Behind the Green Door. With the promotion and advertising from Chamber’s commercial, the Mitchell Brothers’ film was an enormous success, netting millions of dollars while simultaneously popularizing pornography for the first time in American culture. Chambers later went on to become one of the most famous pornographic actors during this time. The brothers’ casting of Chambers, a seemingly normal girl from a wealthy family, revolutionized the industry by introducing a star who was of a similar background to many of the individuals consuming the product: well-to-do, young businessmen. By showcasing this kind of actress, the Mitchell Brothers were able to capitalize on the hidden desires of their patrons, who had only ever experienced prostitutes in these types of films. In addition, they got lucky for her role in a national commercial, as many individuals who went to see the film were already familiar with her.

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Mitchell Brothers O'Farrell Theater at Polk and O'Farrell, 2009.

Photo: Frank Chan

Following their huge hit, the Mitchell Brothers, along with many other entrepreneurs, began offering live shows at their theatre during the 1970s. San Francisco’s troubled Turk Street offers a great representation of the kinds of live shows available to customers during this time (Moon). Imagining this built landscape as a young gentleman seeking a cheap thrill, it appears like a kid in a candy shop. Simply put, if an individual wanted a night on the town with a young lady, he could easily pay for a fix on Turk Street. This image is just one of many that display the abundance of these types of theatres in the neighborhoods of San Francisco during the 1970s. What is most surprising about this photo of Turk Street is how women were portrayed. With signs such as this, women appear to customers as a commodity that can be bought for a low price.

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First block of Turk Street in the early 1970s.

Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

Not everyone reacted positively to the pornographic industry in the city. Around this time, radical feminists argued that a main source of women’s oppression stemmed from sexual domination by men (Chenier). Shortly after commercial sex and pornography was popularized, numerous public protests and rallies were held throughout the country, many of them in San Francisco. These marches had support from men and women from a variety of backgrounds. Although this photograph below was taken from a rally in Pittsburgh, the content is still useful and extremely remarkable (Leinwand).

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Anti-pornographic protestors fill the streets of Pittsburgh, 1976.

From Leinwand, Freda. Women Against Porn, 1976. 1976. The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

From this image, it is evident that these protestors opposed the pornographic industry, arguing that porn is violence against women. And their reasoning against pornography is understandable, as there were many anti-sex groups springing up around the country during the sexual revolution. However, by being opposed to pornography and attempting to promote the rights of women, they were also taking a negative stance against the female porn actresses themselves. Thus, these protestors in a way harassed the women of the industry, some of whom chose to work in pornography by their own choice. Yet, these protests and anti-sex campaigns helped stigmatize the pornographic industry and, most specifically, the actors and actresses themselves. This was likely inevitable due to the nature of the work, but these negative opinions from critics surely served to attack the actors and their personal beliefs.

While these damaging opinions were widely prevalent during the sexual revolution, they certainly did not slow down the industry. In fact, it flourished into present day and continues to be an extremely lucrative industry for directors, producers, and actors/actresses alike. However, as the industry has grown, so have the prejudices and discrimination against actors/actresses, arguably even larger.

In recent years, attractive women who have entered the porn industry often have become instant internet sensations. But with that popularity comes harassment due to the stigmas imposed by society. Belle Knox, a freshman at Duke University two years ago, was subject to extreme hate after word got out that she was working as a porn actress to help fund her tuition. Anonymous users online even threatened to rape and kill her and members of her family. Even though she has not revealed her true name for privacy purposes, Knox is unable to go to class or parties without being recognized and ostracized by her peers (Kingkade). In our modern world of instant social media, this porn actress has fallen victim to levels harassment unimaginable during the initial years of the sexual revolution.

In addition to the types of harassment experiences by Knox, a different kind was recently publicized by the media. California’s Proposition 60 was voted on November 8th, 2016, as the majority of pornographic material made available to the world is produced in the San Fernando Valley. Formally, the proposition title that voters saw on their ballots read, “Adult Films. Condoms. Health Requirements. Initiative Statute” (Ballotpedia). On the surface, this proposition seemed like an obvious yes-no-vote regarding porn actors having to wear condoms during their work (Blue). However, when researched more closely, this proposition was so much more. If voted into action, this law would have allowed internet users to become online-cops, with the ability to sue and bring to light any porn actor/actress who they believe did not use a condom during a porn scene. This would essentially encourage a huge campaign of anti-porn users exposing porn actors/actress’ real names, addresses, and contact information through public records (Blue).

Beginning in the fall of 2016, some porn actors and actresses took it upon themselves to personally campaign against Prop 60, as its passing would have made it legal to harass them and potentially ruin their careers and lives. Tyler Nixon, a pornographic actor who is prominent on social media, shared a picture of some campaigning he did during a recent AIDS Walk in Los Angeles.

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Tyler Nixon (far left) campaigning against California’s Proposition 60 during AIDS Walk LA, 2016.

From Nixon, Tyler (instalurk). “#aidswalkla” 23 October, 2016. Instagram

Luckily for the pornographic industry, California’s Prop 60 failed to be voted into law. Therefore, the rights of its actors and actresses were upheld, saving them from a lot of damage and harassment.

The rise of the pornographic industry in San Francisco during the sexual revolution of the 1960s through the 1980s had many profound effects on society. With its ascent, however, came anti-sex opposition, prejudice, and discrimination against actors/actresses due to the nature of their work. This resistance continues to magnify into present day, and manifests itself through harassments in social media and state-wide anti-sex campaigns.

Bibliography

Blue, Violet. “California’s Prop 60 Would Make It Legal to Harass Porn Stars.” Engadget. N.p., 7 Nov. 2016. Web. 13 Nov. 2016. [1]

“California Proposition 60, Condoms in Pornographic Films (2016).” California Proposition 60, Condoms in Pornographic Films (2016). Ballotpedia, n.d. Web. 13 Nov. 2016. [2]

Chenier, Elise. “Lesbian Sex Wars”.GLBTQ, inc. 2004. Web. 13 Nov. 2016. [3]

Hawk, Josh. “Jim and Artie”. 28 November, 2007. Online Image. Flickr. [4]

Kingkade, Tyler. “Porn Star Belle Knox: Every Day Is ‘Like A Nightmare'” The Huffington Post. N.p., 20 Mar. 2014. Web. 13 Nov. 2016. [5]

Leinwand, Freda. Women Against Porn, 1976. 1976. The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. San Francisco. [6]

Marilyn Chambers. 1972. Mitchell Brothers Pictures, San Francisco. Photofest. Web. 13 Nov. 2016. [7]

Moon, Larry.Adult Theatres on Turk Street, 1970s.N.d. SF Public Library, San Francisco. [8]

Nixon, Tyler (instalurk). “#aidswalkla”. 23 October, 2016. Instagram. [9]

Sides, Josh. Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.