The exteriors of MASH were shot at the Malibu Creek State Park. We called it “the ranch”. It’s about thirty miles from the 20th Century Fox studios where we filmed the interiors and I now picket. The park is right off Malibu Canyon Road not far from the ocean. But it’s inland just enough to be 110 degrees when it’s 75 at the beach. I never understood how that works. The original movie was shot there too, as well as other classic films like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID.
We filmed each episode of MASH in four days, about 8 1/2 script pages. By comparison, a movie might film one page a day. To take advantage of the light we shot from sun up to sundown in the summer – cast in make-up ready to shoot at 6 a.m., wrapping around 8:15. Long day for the actors and the ox wranglers had it even worse.
But once we went off daylight savings time and it would get dark around noon it made no sense to schlep out there. So you’ll notice that in the last few episodes of each season they’re rarely outside and if they are the scenes are shot on our sound stage (Stage 9 for you trivia buffs). Usually they’re night scenes because they look less hokey than daytime shots (although not much).
The writers rarely went out to the ranch. Too much to do back in the office. When you film shows in four days it’s like Lucy and the chocolate factory – the episodes just keep coming faster and faster. In my four years on MASH I was only at the ranch one time. But if I had to pick a day, this was the one to pick. It was the first day of shooting season six. It was also David Ogden Stier’s first day. At one point I was standing on the chopper pad talking with Loretta Swit and heard a sound. We were re-filming a few shots from the opening title sequence that day. I looked up and coming over the purple Santa Monica mountains were the two choppers. I had the exact same view that Radar had in the beginning of the show. I remember thinking to myself, “Ohmygod this is MASH! It’s really MASH. And I’m working on it. How incredibly lucky am I!”
Just as the series was wrapping production a major brush fire destroyed the entire set on October 9, 1982. The fire was written into the final episode.
It was never rebuilt. All that’s left is rusted hulks of an army jeep and an old army ambulance. Park rangers would be asked constantly about the show. Wildlife questions no one had, but everyone wanted to know where MASH was filmed.
And now, thanks in part to Brian Rooney and a team of dedicated volunteers, there are steps being taken to recreate the ranch. They reconstructed the famous 10-foot signpost with its familiar hand lettered arrows. Using original blueprints they are also roping off the areas where the Swamp was, the Mess Tent, etc. The park may eventually institute organized overnight camping trips and videos projected on a bedsheet for campers.
But step one is a formal ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the show’s finale on February 23rd.
So this summer, for the first time in 26 years you’ll be able to actually walk around the MASH camp. Bring water, sunscreen, a portable fan, and your favorite memories.
I'm off to Chicago for a couple of days to see my daughter. Talk to you from the Windy City. I understand I may need to bring a sweater.