James Broughton was born in Modesto, California. His wealthy family allowed him considerable privilege, but he dropped out of both military school and Stanford University, preferring a bohemian life in Paris and, later, San Francisco. In the latter city, he was a major player in the San Francisco Renaissance, a group of writers and artists that influenced the Beats. Over the course of a long and varied creative career, he produced dozens of films and books of poetry. He was also romantically involved with dozens of men and women and produced at least three children.