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... 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...
[around 2001, Kirkley's wife'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.”