Monday, February 04, 2008

You can now walk through the 4077th

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.

24 comments:

Matthew Rigdon said...

Great Super Bowl yesterday, biggest audience yet, but it still came in second to the MASH finale. Even the Big Game couldn't go undefeated

Too bad I didn't actually get to see the finale when it happened. My parents made me go to bed. It was a school night :P

blair said...

Wow. My wife has yet to visit the area, and has been reluctant to do so, therefore I had been tempting her with a hike out to that area. This summer now seems like the absolutely perfect time.

Thanks for the info, Ken.

The Crutnacker said...

You sure you want to come to the midwest? It's 67 (67!) in Louisville at 5:45 AM. Tomorrow it will probably be 30 to 40 degrees cooler after thunderstorms and tornados move through.

The same damned thing happened last week.

I'm lucky that I was allowed to stay up for the finale.

a. buck short said...

ken levine wrote…
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.

Can you take a woman's XXXL? Why not just stop by the Lane Bryant where the police have the store roped off for tourists with crime-scene-do-not-cross tape? Sorry. No, really sorry. Do you think the robber picked that place because the plus-sized customers are so much easier to draw a bead on than the anorexics at Prada / Dolce-Gabbana? Did I say, sorry? Is it too close to Superbowl weekend, or does Lane Bryant sound like a wide receiver to you too?

olucy said...

Yes, bring a sweater. And a shovel.

The Curmudgeon said...

Good luck getting here. Midway was closed most of yesterday due to fog; the fog was just as bad at O'Hare but only 20% of the flights there got canceled. Pilots there are braver, apparently.

The last foot of snow we got has melted somewhat, with temperatures above freezing today and yesterday (hence the fog) -- but don't worry -- up to a foot of snow is forecast for tonight and into tomorrow.

So, also, good luck getting out of here again.

But enjoy your stay.

Omnibus Driver said...

A sweater? Yup. And boots. You're gonna need 'em.

John said...

Took a hike up there with a friend on an overcast day in late January three years ago and tried to pinpoint the exact site. We thought the area around the uphill curve where the flat area widens out a bit was where it was, but we weren't sure, so we hiked about another half mile past the dry creek bed and up a canyon until it started drizzling, and we turned around to head back, and discovered that the dry creek bed now had about 18 inches of water flowing through it from a flash flood coming down from the mountains.

Would have been nice to have the helicopters then to airlift us out, since we ended up having to wade through the stream and then slosh 1 1/2 miles back to the car in 45 degree weather, which of course led to flu-like symptoms a few days later. Not recommended, especially in January when your annual health insurance deductible hasn't kicked in yet.

Jack Ruttan said...

Cool post. I love the apparatus of film or TV-making.

Constance Reader said...

I'm glad to read this, Ken. Season 11 Disc 3 is on its way from Netflix as we speak. Since I'm a sentimental schmuck, I think I'll wait for February 23 to watch it.

I remember watching the final episode when it first aired. I was so upset that the people and place I had lived my entire conscious life with was about to go away. Thank God for DVDs!

John Hudgens said...

If this pans out, I am *SO* going there after ComicCon this summer...

Dwacon® said...

If the 4077th is in California or Maryland... you can legally walk through the women's showers if you are Max Klinger.

Anonymous said...

Am I alone in thinking A Buck Short's comments are a bit crass?

Anonymous said...

Depends on what meds he's on.

Mo said...

Wow, how wonderful! I would give anything to see this!

And welcome to Chicago! Hope you're bringing your tall boots!

Major Bloodnok said...

Thanks for letting us know about this. I remember MASH fondly and have yet to find a sit com that resonates the same way. Fabulous WRITING and acting.

I was wondering where to bring my family on our next vacation- now I have a very good idea. Another favorite of mine, PLANET OF THE APES, was also filmed there.

Keep up the good fight.

ritaskleinewelt said...

my life will be complete the day i walk across the MASH compound! this is such great news, indeed! :D

MASH Fan said...

Actually the sign was made by Brian Rooney, who made it in his workshop, and carried to the site with the help of Mark Rackow. Andreas Kyriacou was just a hiker who was nearby, see the Los Angeles Times article. Can't wait to see it myself! I love MASH!

Anonymous said...

MASH was and is still a great show.

jbryant said...

Today's imdb home page has a link to this thread.

Rosie said...

Hi Ken - thanks for this. I was Alan's assistant on the show for 8 years (through the end) and in fact, typed the last episode. I think it's time to revisit. Thanks for the memories. - Rosie

Anonymous said...

I was at Carmel Creek State Park this weekend for the Anniversary ceremony. Neat deal.

I'm a reporter, so I interviewed Mike Farrell, Loretta Swit, and William Christopher. Interestingly, none of them had ever been back out to the site. It's of course no longer packed down dirt as it was on the series, but somewhat overgrown and rutted, although park volunteers (led by Brian Rooney) did a good job of clearing it out.

Great to see the recreated sign there, and the helipad provided a lot of flashbacks for fans. While I was standing up there looking toward the peaks where the choppers came in during the opening, I could hear the theme song playing on a boom box down the hill. That was pretty neat!

All three actors present, were much the same as they were as their characters. Mike Farrell, political and confident, William Christopher with that unmistakable voice and gently personality, and Loretta Swit, somewhat demanding but also appreciative of the fans.

Hopefully, the park can pull of the plans they have to allow people to come out and camp at the site, including showing episodes featuring outdoor shots so you can contemplate the "hallowed" ground on which you camp.

It was a fun event, but as Gene Reynolds said, it was hard to ignore "the elephant in the room"... no Alan Alda.

Anonymous said...

Holy Shit!

FS4 said...

Great write up. Used to work close by at a Navy Base. Also met William Christopher in Cape Canaveral once. He was very nice. I still enjoy the episodes (especially season 6, thanks for all the laughs).