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SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION : RELATIVES OF AUTHOR KEN KESEY CASH IN ON '60S GROOVY FEELING.

Byline: Joe Kidd The Register-Guard

You're watching a documentary on rock 'n' roll and see a historic clip of the Grateful Dead. Guess what? The film footage probably came from Eugene.

You're sitting in a funky cafe and notice a poster of the Merry Pranksters' 1960s road-trip bus, Furthur. Chances are the poster came from Eugene, too.

You're in a rare book shop and peruse a mint-condition copy of ``One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'' autographed by Ken Kesey. Where did the book come from? You guessed it - Eugene.

The source of the counterculture memorabilia: Key-Z Productions, a home-grown mail-order outlet and film production studio run by a branch of the Kesey family.

By selling everything from posters to place mats, Zane and Stephanie Kesey - the son and daughter-in-law of counterculture guru Ken Kesey - are cashing in on a worldwide resurgence of interest in the 1960s.

The couple started Key-Z Productions eight years ago as a tiny operation at Ken Kesey's farm in Pleasant Hill.

Now they're reaching a series of milestones: their first year of merchandise sales well over $100,000, their first nationwide tour with former Grateful Dead band members and their first shot at producing a full-length documentary on their specialty - the zany '60s.

One reason for Key-Z Productions' success: It's niche is so specialized that there's scant competition.

With the passing of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia and the much-promoted death of author Timothy Leary, even more people - from filmmakers to hippie wanna-bes - are calling on the Keseys' business.

``Ever since Jerry's death last year, things have accelerated,'' says Zane Kesey, 35. ``We used to be dealing with the present, but now it's becoming a piece of the past.''

The couple started out selling surplus books written by Ken Kesey. When a Ken Kesey book goes out of print, the entrepreneurs buy unsold copies from his publisher, Viking Books, and add them to the Key-Z Productions mail-order stock in Eugene.

Later, Zane and Stephanie Kesey market the books as autographed copies and collector's items.

Soon after founding their company, Stephanie and Zane Kesey ventured into film production by collecting reels of film and audio footage from Ken Kesey's dizzy days in the counterculture.

In the '60s, Kesey was a trend setter among hippies and a leader of the Merry Pranksters, a band of partyers and performers who roved the West Coast.

After selling his first book - ``One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'' - Kesey splurged on movie cameras and sound gear to record the troupe's activities.

Years later, the Pranksters and their friends went on to become musicians, business owners, authors and entrepreneurs. The film and audio footage became their main link to the past.

After dabbling with old 16 mm reels at Kesey's farm in the late 1980s, Zane and Stephanie Kesey started collecting and cataloging the film and audio reels.

They soon discovered that the archives were growing in value as nostalgia swelled. Soon, the couple began licensing footage and photographs to magazines, news publications and filmmakers.

At the same time, they expanded their mail-order business to include T-shirts, audio tapes and posters. Customers range from book collectors and memorabilia wholesalers to Grateful Dead fans.

``There's a big resurgence of interest all of a sudden in the writings, film footage, music and even health food from that time,'' Stephanie Kesey, 35, says. ``It sort of all goes hand-in-hand.''

The film and audio archiving was painstaking. The Keseys transferred hundreds of hours of film onto videotape to edit the footage and preserve the originals. Also, they dabbled in detective work to round up lost reels of film and audio recordings.

The Pranksters had stored 30 hours of film in a controlled-environment vault in Los Angeles.

But more was stashed in barns and attics, and some was on movie-house shelves in Hollywood.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Zane Kesey of Key-Z Productions holds film his fathe r, Ken Kesey, shot in the '60s that the company has been successful in marketing.

Associated Press
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 14, 1996
Words:665
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