Arrested development: Teddy Kennedy, Hunter Thompson, Jim and Artie Mitchell

Serial killer John Wayne Gacy seems more pleasant than them

Jack, Bobby, Ted Kennedy in Apr. 29, 1991 issue of Time
  • Jack, Bobby, Ted Kennedy in Apr. 29, 1991 issue of Time

Ted Kennedy, now 61, is an arrested development beau ideal. Cause, in Teddy’s case, has never led, necessarily, to effect. He’s escaped visible consequences. He’s kept his Senate seat for 30 years. He’s not even lost his hair.

Kennedy said he couldn’t be bothered to read Richard E. Burke’s memoir, The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy. He said that from what he’d heard about the book the stories Burke told were “bizarre and untrue.” But he didn’t say he’d sue.

Burke in 1971 was an 18-year-old Georgetown freshman who so idolized then 39-year-old Ted Kennedy that he, Burke, offered to work without pay in the senator’s Washington office. Kennedy in 1971 had occupied for nine years what had been his older brother’s senate seat; two years had passed since Kennedy drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island into eight feet of water, leaving his companion in the car, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, to drown.

Mitchell brothers in Esquire, June, 1991

Mitchell brothers in Esquire, June, 1991

Burke went to work sorting Kennedy’s mail (on average, 1000 letters a day arrive in the Kennedy office). Over the next six years, he rose to driver (and a salary), then to executive assistant, and finally in 1977 to administrative assistant and aide.

In 1977, Burke, 24, serving his first weeks as aide, came upon a parcel wrapped in brown paper and marked “Personal.” The return address identified the sender as a physician. Burke took off the wrappings. “AMYL NITRATE” was stamped along the box’s side. Burke opened the lid and found himself staring down at some 200 large yellow capsules.

Burke telephoned physician Stu Shapiro at the Senate’s health subcommittee, which Kennedy chaired. Burke said to Shapiro that he heard friends mention amyl nitrate. “What,” Burke asked Shapiro, “does amyl nitrate do?”

Hunter Thompson, it When the Going Gets Weird

Hunter Thompson, it When the Going Gets Weird

Shapiro answered, “It’s used to revive heart patients.” Trembling, Burke hung up the phone. “Oh, God,” Burke thought, “he’s sick. Senator Kennedy has a heart condition,.” Burke, such a naif that fellow staffers nicknamed him “the Archbishop,” that night queried friends whom he considered hip about amyl nitrate. The friends explained, “They’re called ’poppers.’ People crack them open and put them under their noses. It gives you a real rush while you’re dancing, and it’s great during sex.”

The next morning Burke took the box into the senator’s office and displayed the contents. He said to Kennedy, “I actually thought you had a heart condition, and I called the doctor.”

Kennedy, according to Burke’s memoir, “roared with laughter.” He grabbed a handful of the poppers from the box and tossed them to Burke, saying, “Here you go. Try ’em. It’s time you lived a little.” Burke tried the poppers. Soon he tried the cocaine that he claims his boss regularly hoovered up with $100 bills. (“Then the Senator accepted the $100 bill, leaned over, and snorted one of the two remaining lines of cocaine. I did the last line.”) Burke asserts that from 1977 until 1981, he and Kennedy sniffed up the white powder in each other’s company. “The Senator,” writes Burke, “never tried to hide his usage from me.” Further, writes Burke, “More than once, seeking out the Senator at his home to discuss some pressing point of business, I found him in the hot tub, naked, with a variety of others. It was clear they weren’t simply there for the drinks and company. Bullets of coke lay conveniently nearby.” Burke reports that Kennedy bought the drug regularly through women friends who acquired the drug from dealers. Burke further claims that Kennedy, intending to counsel his teenage children about their own drug use, “ended up doing some lines of coke with them.” Kennedy’s libido required an object other than his alcoholic wife Joan (who by her own admission had a drinking problem). Burke’s job involved his managing the senator’s harem, arranging accommodations for women friends’ overnight visits, dealing with jealousies, crises of missed menstrual periods and venereal disease, complaints that the senator wanted to do “three-ways.” Burke had to listen to the women’s confidences. One told him, “Ted’s not the only one who knows how to play hard. I know Gary Hart real well. We had a torrid affair.”

Burke left Kennedy’s employ in 1981. “I was feeling,” writes Burke, “more like a pimp than a senatorial aide.”

Time magazine dubbed Jim and Artie Mitchell “The Potentates of Porn.” David McCumber’s X-RATED and John Hubner’s Bottom Feeders tell the story of Jim and Artie, born, respectively, in 1943 and 1945, and reared in Antioch, then a small town in the Sacramento delta.

After high school the brothers served in the Army, and after the Army, in the late ’60s, they moved to San Francisco. Using hippie chicks willing for ten dollars to undress and undulate while the 16mm Bolex whirred, Jim Mitchell began making dirty movies. Soon, Artie joined him.

July 4,1969 (two weeks before Mary Jo Kopechne drowned at Chappaquiddick), Jim and Artie opened the O’Farrell Theatre, offering adult films (they produced a new “beaver” film every two weeks) and live stage shows, at the corner of O’Farrell and Polk in San Francisco. The O’Farrell, still a Mitchell property, to this day offers “5 UNIQUE LIVE SHOWS!! 2 XXX FILMS!!”'

In late 1971, the brothers filmed Behind the Green Door, which cost $60,000 to make and eventually earned $25 million. “The movie was made under conditions so hot,” Artie told Playboy, “we just wanted to throw down the cameras at the end of each day of filming and fuck and suck our way to oblivion.”

From Green Door on, the Mitchells rolled in cash. The brothers’ private office, above the O’Farrell, increasingly became a boys’ club for Mitchell buddies. There was a pool table, Wurlitzer jukebox, booze-stocked refrigerator, gun rack and moose head on the wall. Artie framed and hung on a wall a letter noting his suspension from high school for drinking. Marijuana and cocaine were at hand, as were naked women. (Joanne Scott, an off-and-on again Artie girlfriend, told both Hubner and McCumber of being turned over to a group of Artie’s fishermen friends to serve as target of a gangbang.)

An O’Farrell dancer told this story: “I performed with my partner Ramona a fist-fucking act on the pool table.... It may have been for Artie’s birthday. I remember there was a big cake with boobs.” (Hunter, by E. Jean Carroll)

Jim and Artie married twice and divorced twice. Between them, they acknowledged nine children as their own. While both men felt free to screw women other than their wives and live-in girlfriends, they greeted with rage any interest in other men shown by the wives and girlfriends. Both men slapped their women around.

From childhood Jim had been the more serious of the two brothers and Artie the irresponsible clown. By the mid-’70s Artie was known as “Party Hearty Artie.” He drank prodigiously, starting in the morning with Heineken and moving on to Cuervo Gold and “Stoli” — Stolichnaya vodka. He eschewed tobacco, but smoked marijuana as other people smoked cigarettes. He spiced these basics with Ecstasy, Quaaludes, and cocaine. Describing himself as a “fuckaholic,” Artie sometimes bedded three or four women in a night, either one-on-one or as three-ways. Artie told Joanne Scott, “There are only ten real men left in America. I’m one of them.” Hubner and McCumber tell this story about Artie and his ’80s girlfriend Missy Manners. (The story here is told from Hubner’s book):

  • Missy and Artie received invitations to the grand opening of the Fog City Diner. Fog City is the epitome of a trendy San Francisco restaurant where food is fun before it is anything else.... The invitation was highly prized. Artie and Missy got very drunk and around one in the morning Artie started chopping up lines of cocaine on the marble-top counter.
  • “My girl’s beaver, you gotta see it," Artie started telling the people who were sharing his coke. “Come on. Missy, show it to ’em.”
  • Missy, who was sitting on the stool next to Artie, swung away from the counter, hiked up her skirt, pulled off her panties, and placed them on the counter. Then she sat back down on the stool with her legs spread and her dress up.

By the ’80s, Jim was beginning to back off from liquor and cocaine, although he continued to smoke marijuana. Artie was drinking more, coking and smoking more. He repeatedly drove drunk and repeatedly was arrested. (Hubner writes that Artie had so many DUIs he could not register a car in his name. Jim bought a Dodge Colt minivan for Artie, and because Artie was the vehicle’s principal driver, the insurance cost $18,000 a year.)

Artie beat his wives and girlfriends. He repeatedly slapped, slugged, kicked Missy Manners. One night Artie pushed her down a steep hill, and when she hit bottom he threw empty Heineken bottles at her.

In 1990’s last months, Artie was living in Corte Madera, a Marin County suburb. He was 45. The drinking and doping were telling on him. In the middle of the night, girlfriends heard him vomiting. He’d begun carrying a .38-caliber pistol in his daypack. One night while drunk, he shot off several rounds into the ceiling of the O’Farrell office. Theater employees asked Jim to keep Artie out of the building. At a luncheon party early in 1991 at Maye’s Original Oyster House on Polk Street, Artie pulled out the .38 and threatened to kill a fellow diner but was persuaded to put the gun away. Friends, family, O’Farrell workers: by 1991 all were complaining to Jim about Artie. “Jim,” people were saying, “you’ve got to do something.”

When the Gulf War started, Jim, with several friends, founded a weekly newspaper they called War News. It was the first project Jim began in which Artie was not invited to participate.

February 27,1991, Iraqi troops were in full retreat across Kuwait. U.S. and allied forces were entering Kuwait City. Jim was at the War News office, readying the paper’s second issue. Midaftemoon, Artie, drunk, called Jim’s San Francisco house and left a message on the answering machine: “I can drink the rest of my life and outlive you. Don’t you love your kids enough to stop smoking?” He redialed and left a second message. “You told your girlfriend you’re going to quit smoking. Those cigarettes are going to kill you, but I’m going to kill you first.”

Jim and his girlfriend, Lisa Adams, arrived home about nine that evening and heard the messages. Nine-thirty, Jim, armed with a .22-caliber rifle and .38-caliber handgun, climbed into his 1991 Ford Explorer and drove through fog and light rain from his San Francisco house, across the Golden Gate Bridge to Corte Madera.

When Jim arrived at Artie’s house, the lights were out. Jim, carrying his rifle, walked in without knocking.

By 10:30 p.m,, Artie was dead. The autopsy would show that Artie had been shot in the stomach, wrist, and right eye and that his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit for driving. Jim, arrested that night leaving Artie’s house, would later testify that all he remembered once he entered Artie’s door was seeing his brother rush toward him with what he thought was a gun and that he responded by firing one round into the ceiling.

The weapon Jim claims he saw in Artie’s hand was nowhere to be found. Lying on the floor near Artie’s bloody corpse was an empty Heineken bottle that Jim perhaps mistook for a gun. The movie advertised on the O’Farrell marquee that night was A Scream in the Night.

Jim’s lawyer, Michael Kennedy (Ivana Trump’s divorce lawyer), argued that while Jim did shoot Artie, he didn’t murder him. The killing, said Kennedy, was “an intervention gone awry.” A New York Times reviewer, writing about the Hubner and McCumber books, concluded, “Artie Mitchell had run amok, and his brother put him down as you would a dear but rabid house pet.”

Jim Mitchell was convicted by a Marin County jury of voluntary manslaughter and remains free on bond while he appeals his conviction and six-year sentence.

When Hunter Thompson (Uncle Duke in Trudeau’s comic strip “Doonesbury”) visits San Francisco, he pays his respects at the O’Farrell. In 1985 when Thompson went to work for the San Francisco Examiner, he made the O’Farrell — “The Carnegie Hall of live sex,” he called it — his headquarters. He intended to write for Playboy a story set there, to which he gave the title “The Night Manager.” Like many other stories Thompson meant to write, this never got written.

Artie and Jim liked to pull fast ones on Hunter. A favorite was slipping a huge cockroach in an enchilada Hunter was about to eat and watching while he devoured the meal. The Mitchells and their pals got off on one of Thompson’s favorite tricks: pretending to inject booze directly into the stomach.

Hunter Stockton Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky (“I always felt like a Southerner,” Thompson once said, “and I always felt like I was born in defeat”). Paul Perry’s Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompson has Thompson born on July 18, 1939. E. Jean Carroll’s Hunter: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson has him born on that same date in 1937. Whichever, his birthday fell on the same July date that Teddy Kennedy let Mary Jo Kopechne drown at Chappaquiddick. A tidy irony.

Thompson’s father died while Thompson was still in high school. Thompson’s mother Virginia was a drunk. Carroll claims that at least once when Thompson was a teenager (and already a Herculean boozer) he hit his mother, slugged her and knocked her down the stairs. Louisville parents routinely forbade their daughters to date Hunter, and while still in high school he did county jail time for drunken, destructive exploits.

After high school, Thompson served in the Air Force as a sports reporter, and after the Air Force he moved to Greenwich Village and worked for Time. By 1964 he was married to a lovely blonde named Sandy. They had a baby — Juan — and were living in San Francisco. Thompson was working on a novel and as a freelancer (including more than a year’s worth of conventionally reported pieces for The National Observer).

A Thompson intimate during those years told Carroll, “[Before he started writing Hells Angels they had no money, they had no rent.... Sandy and Juan and I went into the grocery store and stole meat so they could eat.... And Hunter, meanwhile, was ordering, I’ll never forget this, was ordering Pendleton shirts by mail, and Juan didn’t have any milk.”

To The Nation editor Carey McWilliams is owed Thompson’s first book, the 1966 Hells Angels. McWilliams offered Thompson $100 to write about the Angels for The Nation. The article, which appeared on 5/17/65, led Ian Ballantine of Ballantine Books to offer Thompson a book contract.

Perry tells about Ballantine’s visit to San Francisco to discuss the contract. “Sandy answered the door when Ballantine knocked and quietly led him into the sunny living room were Hunter was reading the paper. Ballantine immediately sensed that the couple had been fighting before his arrival.... Ballantine could see by Sandy’s reddened eyes that she had been crying.”

Discomfited by tension between the Thompsons, Ballantine was eager to leave. “What happened next is still puzzling to Ballantine. Hunter stormed out of the living room and into the bedroom, where he started hitting Sandy.... Ballantine sat uncomfortably until Hunter returned to the living room, acting as though nothing had happened.”

Thompson and Sandy moved from San Francisco to Aspen in 1967. For $75,000 Thompson acquired a farm house and 110 acres five miles from town where he still lives. In 1970 Thompson turned out his first Rolling Stone piece, “The Battle of Aspen,” about his own unsuccessful run on the Freak Power ticket for Pitkin County sheriff.

Next, in 1971, came Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and then Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies.

By 1974, when he went to Zaire to cover the Ali-Foreman heavyweight championship for Rolling Stone,Thompson was having difficulty completing assignments. Ralph Steadman, along to illustrate Thompson’s story, recalled that in Zaire Thompson did no work. “He was more interested in looking for cocaine. In fact, all he did was look for cocaine.” Thompson said to Steadman, “Why should I come all this way to watch a couple of niggers beat the shit out of each other?” The adventure cost Rolling Stone $25,000 in expenses, and Thompson never wrote the story. Perry quotes an unnamed editor as saying that by 1974 Thompson was writing parodies of himself. “It was,” says this editor, “the cocaine that ruined him.”

Even Tim Cahill’s Buried Dreams, about serial killer John Wayne Gacy (who sodomized and murdered 33 young men), made Gacy seem more pleasant than either David McCumber or John Hubner have made the Mitchell brothers or Jean Carroll or Paul Perry have made Hunter Thompson or Richard Burke has made Ted Kennedy.

Reading these books, I thought repeatedly of Mary Jo Kopechne. Mary Jo had not been a party girl, she wasn’t fast. She admired Ted Kennedy, she trusted him. She was a martyr, really, to his arrested development. So I hope that women with scant experience of men and women who find themselves susceptible to men similar to Thompson, Kennedy, or Artie Mitchell will read these books.

The Senator: My Ten Years with Ted Kennedy, by Richard E. Burke, with William and Marilyn Hofifer, St. Martin's Press, $23.95.

X-RATED: The Mitchell Brothen:A TrueStory of Sex, Money, and Death, by David McCumber, Simon & Schuster, $23.

Bottom Feeders: From Free Love to Hard Core, The Rise and Fall of Counterculture Heroes Jim and Artie Mitchell, by John Hubner, Doubleday, $24.

Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompson, by Paul Perry, Thunder’s Mouth Press, $22.95.

Hunter: The Strange and Savage Life of Hunter S. Thompson, by E. Jean Carroll, Dutton, $25.

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