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Behind the Green Door (1972)

Jim Mitchell, who, with his brother, Artie, nudged pornography closer to the mainstream with their widely seen 1972 movie Behind the Green Door, then was convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting Artie in 1991, died on July 12 at his ranch near Petaluma, Calif. He was 63.

His death was confirmed by Higgins Chapel, a funeral home in Antioch, Calif., where services for Mr. Mitchell were to be held today. No cause was given.

The brothers spent $60,000 to make Behind the Green Door, which made more than $25 million. It showed at the Cannes Film Festival, received remarkably favorable reviews for a pornography film, and made a cult star of Marilyn Chambers, whose photograph had just appeared on the Ivory Snow box cuddling a baby.

It even had a plot, which involved lurid imaginings of what might be going on behind a green door. That concept dated back more than a century in spoken folklore and had become a staple of the barracks by the time Artie was in the Army.

How important the plot was to viewers is unclear: the movie was shown out of sequence at its premiere, and nobody noticed. But it was undeniably important in court, where the filmmakers regularly defended themselves against obscenity charges: many judges thought a plot suggested that a movie might have redeeming social merit.

Joseph W. Slade, a professor of telecommunications at Ohio University who has studied pornography, said yesterday that the movie took advantage of a wider tolerance if not growing acceptance of displays of nudity.

“The country was ready for sexual explicitness,” Mr. Slade said.

The Mitchell brothers also broke ground with live sex exhibitions at their O’Farrell Theater in San Francisco. The writer Hunter S. Thompson was night manager for several years and called the theater “the Carnegie Hall of public sex in America.”

James Lowell Mitchell, whose life has been recounted in books and numerous articles, was born on Nov. 30, 1943, in Stockton, Calif., and grew up in nearby Antioch, a hardscrabble mill town. His father tried, with occasional success, to support the family by playing poker. Jim studied cinema at San Francisco State College. For spending money he approached women and offered them $10 to pose topless for his camera. He sold the photos for a profit to local pornography purveyors. He began making three-minute sex films for use in peep-show theaters, then moved on to longer “nudies.”

Artie Mitchell came up with the idea of using the “Green Door” tale for a movie, and Jim shot it. Next came Resurrection of Eve (1973), also starring Ms. Chambers; then Sodom & Gomorrah (1975). Each cost more, and made less. The brothers portrayed themselves as politically correct pornographers, making their many legal defenses into First Amendment crusades.

On Feb. 27, 1991, Jim kicked in the door of Artie’s home and fired eight shots, three of which hit Artie. Jim said that things had gone terribly wrong when he confronted his brother about his consumption of alcohol and drugs. A jury convicted him of manslaughter and weapons charges, and he served half of a six-year sentence. He then lived quietly on his ranch.

Mr. Mitchell is survived by his mother, Georgia Mae Mitchell; his wife, Lisa Adams; his daughters Meta Jane Mitchell and Jennifer Skye Mitchell; his sons, James Raphael Mitchell and Justin Samuel Mitchell; and one grandchild.

The Mitchell brothers were often described as a major force in making sex an industry. But they were self-deprecating about their films. During the days when they owned 11 theaters and their movies made millions, Jim said, “The only Art in this business is my brother.”