Pubdate: Thu, 07 Jun 2007
Source: Orange County Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2007 O.C. Weekly Media, Inc.
Author: Nick Schou
Referenced: Lords of Acid
Bookmark: (Timothy Leary)


Director William A. Kirkley Rediscovers the Dark Side of OC's Summer of Love

The upscale crowd that gathered at Costa Mesa's Aire Global Cuisine 
on April 16 for the Newport Beach Film Festival Director's Dinner 
were well-prepared to mingle, network and, most of all, take 
advantage of the restaurant's generous open bar. What they probably 
weren't prepared for was the onscreen unveiling of Orange County's 
secret history as the nation's onetime epicenter for LSD.

But for 10 minutes, diners got an exclusive glimpse of their county's 
trippy past when director William A. Kirkley presented a trailer for 
his upcoming documentary Orange Sunshine, the true story of Orange 
County's Brotherhood of Eternal Love, also known as the Hippie Mafia. 
The movie depicts the unbelievable rise and fall of Timothy Leary's 
legendary cult--which started as a group of Laguna Beach surfers and 
quickly became the world's largest acid, hash and marijuana 
distribution network.

The group's headquarters, a Laguna Beach head shop called Mystic Arts 
World, mysteriously burned down in 1970, and two years later, law 
enforcement indicted several dozen members of the group. Those who 
weren't arrested fled overseas. The story of the Brotherhood is one 
of the strangest chapters of American counter-cultural history, yet 
40 years after its inception during the so-called Summer of Love, 
it's one that remains little-understood and, outside the confines of 
Laguna Canyon, all but unknown.

That fact isn't completely coincidental. Many people associated with 
the Brotherhood continue to live underground, believing they could 
end up in jail if authorities learn their true identities. Several 
members of the group lived under assumed names until the mid-1990s, 
when they were finally tracked down and arrested. Meanwhile, other 
people who weren't really in the Brotherhood have made a career out 
of hyping a self-proclaimed connection.

As one former member--who spoke on the condition of anonymity--told 
me, "If you remember it, you weren't there."

Fortunately, enough people who were really there and who do remember 
what happened are now helping Kirkley tell the tale. The film's title 
comes from the name of the orange-colored acid tabs the Brotherhood 
printed up by the thousand in Laguna Canyon and then distributed to 
Grateful Dead shows and communes around the country in their effort 
to fuel the nation's psychedelic revolution, which they hoped would 
eventually lead to a nationwide spiritual awakening.

Kirkley, 28, grew up in Newport Beach before moving to New York, 
where he filmed his first documentary, Excavating Taylor Mead, a 
lost-and-found profile of Andy Warhol's first superstar, whom Kirkley 
met at a restaurant in New York's Lower East Side and originally 
mistook for a homeless person. The movie debuted at the 2005 Tribeca 
Film Festival as a nominee for best documentary; it then screened in 
London, Italy, Philadelphia and Boston.

After finishing that film, Kirkley returned to California and began 
searching for a new project. His father-in-law, a former Laguna Beach 
resident who had peripheral involvement with the Brotherhood, told 
him about this crazy band of surfer hippies in Laguna Canyon who once 
tried to sell enough acid to buy an island where Timothy Leary would 
reign as a demigod. Then--shameless self-promotion alert--Kirkley 
read my Weekly feature story about the Brotherhood ("Lords of Acid," 
July 8, 2005), and he was hooked.

"I couldn't believe that OC had this kind of hidden past, this secret 
history you would never expect in such a conservative place," Kirkley says.

How Kirkley came to be the first filmmaker to explore the story of 
the Brotherhood is a story almost as surprising as that of the 
Brotherhood itself. As a child of divorced parents in Newport Beach, 
Kirkley rebelled against what he saw as the meaningless conformity of 
Orange County. He shaved his head, leaving only an anarchist-style 
spiked Mohawk. He skipped classes to skateboard around town. The 
first time he ran away from home was during his freshman year in high school.

"A girl I knew had a car," Kirkley recalls. "I told her I was going 
to Seattle and asked if she wanted to go with me. We drove all the 
way up there and spent the last of our money at Denny's for a meal. 
Then we fell asleep in our car and were woken up by a police 
officer." The cop put Kirkley back on a bus to Orange County. But he 
ran away again two years later, when he was 16 years old. He 
hitchhiked his way to San Francisco and fell in with a group of 
fellow runaways.

"It didn't last long," Kirkley says. "I realized it was just a bunch 
of frat boys who shaved their heads into Mohawks because they didn't 
get a Range Rover for their birthday. One day, I was sitting around, 
smoking pot with all these people, and I just see all these kids 
becoming the future bums of America, the future homeless. I had way 
too much to do with my life. I had always known I wanted to be a 
filmmaker, and if I stayed in that scene, I would never reach that goal."

After a year in the Bay Area, Kirkley moved to the Los Angeles 
neighborhood of Echo Park. He hung out in coffee shops and told local 
bands he was a music-video director, did a few shoots for free, 
signed up with an agent, and began working on a film script. "It was 
a hitman-genre script, a romantic dark comedy called Cigarettes for 
Breakfast," Kirkley says. "I started going to parties and meeting all 
these people and being introduced as the next big writer." The agent 
landed a $50,000 option deal but told Kirkley to wait for something 
better--nothing ever came of the project.

But Kirkley's music-video ambitions did bear fruit. He directed a 
video for a band called the Flys, who performed on the Tonight Show 
and MTV. He later filmed their nationwide tour. Kirkley's second 
video, for an Orange County band called Hinged, gave him his first 
experience in production. At about that time, Kirkley met his future 
wife, Emmy Hoxter, and they moved to New York together.

There, Kirkley happened upon Taylor Mead, the former Warhol 
superstar. Kirkley spent several months begging Mead to let him 
follow him around with a camera. Mead rebuffed Kirkley repeatedly, 
but he finally gave up and, in January 2001, agreed to be filmed. 
Kirkley spent the next four years documenting Mead's life on film.

Meanwhile, Emmy's father, Don, who had spent time in Laguna Canyon in 
the 1960s, regaled Kirkley with tales of the Brotherhood and urged 
him to consider making a documentary about the group. "I told 
[Kirkley] that not only are a lot of us getting older now and some 
are already dead, but there is also a critical mass happening with 
the Brotherhood," Don says. "People have always been pushing me to 
tell this story because it's never been told."

After reading "Lords of Acid," Kirkley says he realized his 
father-in-law's stories about Laguna Beach's hidden past could make a 
great movie. He began researching the Brotherhood. He tracked down 
rare archival footage. He convinced one of the artists who ran with 
the group to share posters and other mementos as visual aids in the 
film. He also interviewed numerous veterans of the group, many of 
whom were profiled in "Lords of Acid" but were initially reluctant to 
appear on camera.

You can find Kirkley's trailer on YouTube by typing in the words 
"Orange Sunshine" and "Kirkley." Among the ex-Brotherhood figures 
featured in the trailer are "Thumper," an Orange County businessman 
who ran away from home at age 14 to live with his sister in a Laguna 
Canyon house. Thumper went on surfing trips with John Gale, one of 
the Brotherhood's legendary leaders, and later became a major drug 
dealer in his own right. Kirkley also interviewed Robert "Stubby" 
Tierney, a major Brotherhood smuggler who did a stint in federal 
prison, then changed his name and became a television and music-video 
producer before losing everything. A born-again Christian, Tierney 
now lives in a senior center in Newport Beach.

(Full disclosure: Also appearing is yours truly as a supposed 
"expert" on the Brotherhood. Besides the story I wrote two years ago, 
I'm also working on a book about the group and am sharing information 
from my reporting with Kirkley. Once the film gets made, I will get a 
writing credit.)

Helping Kirkley are several colleagues from the commercial-production 
company where he works. He's currently meeting with potential 
distributors. One prominent OC-based surfwear manufacturer expressed 
interest in the film but backed off after realizing the movie's 
hallucino-centric content violated the company's anti-drug policy. 
"We have all these great people in place," Kirkley says. "Everyone 
really believes in the project, and we just have to get somebody to 
help make it."

Anyone interested in learning more about Orange Sunshine, including 
folks who were in Laguna Canyon back in those days, can e-mail 
William A. Kirkley at wkirkley 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake