I watched a lot of the channel TV Land as a kid, and one of my favorite shows was M * A * S * H, which revolved around the 4077th mobile army surgical hospital (that’s what “MASH” stands for in case you were wondering) in Korea during the Korean War.
At some point I learned that M * A * S * H filmed pretty much exclusively within Malibu Creek State Park and I was determined to visit. So last Saturday, Patrick, myself, and my friend, Kaitlyn made the pilgrimage to the site of the 4077th.
The area now known as Malibu Creek State Park originally belonged to 20th Century Fox, who purchased 2,000 acres in 1946, dubbing it Century Ranch. But the area wasn’t new to film making. In fact it has been used by Hollywood since 1919 with Mary Pickford’s Daddy Long Legs.
The hike to the M * A * S * H location is just over five miles and includes some spectacular views.
Upon arrival at the location, a partially restored ambulance greets you, and just a little further down the way is another ambulance and a Jeep, both a rusted form of their former selves, results from a fire in 1982 that took out the original sets as the series wrapped up filming. A recreation of the famous sign post offers a perfect photo opt and a map showcases where the various tents were set up and a shaded picnic area resides where the mess hall once stood.
M * A * S * H filmed here during their entire eleven year run (much longer than the real Korean War) from 1972 to 1983, but during that time the land changed hands from 20th Century Fox to the State of California. The State of California purchased in the land in 1974, opening it to the public in 1976.
For my outfit for the day, I knew I wanted to be comfy, but also, I can never resist a theme, so I decided to apply the rules of Disneybounding to go for a Hawkeye inspired creation. I loved Hawkeye’s Hawaiian shirt and straw cowboy hat look, and borrowed one of Pat’s Hawaiian shirts, pulled out a pair of green clam diggers to emulate Hawkeye’s olive drab pants, and one of my own straw hats.
The immediate area looks much different from how it looked in the show, as originally the area was cleared of all brush and tall grass to make way for the tents, and since 1983, the area has been mostly reclaimed by nature. However the iconic hills that the helicopters flew over in the intro, and the peek behind where The Swamp was located, are still very recognizable. The area is also much smaller than it appeared on TV, that good ol’ camera angle magic! And as convincing as the show was with its interior shots, nearly all interior scenes were shot on Fox Studio sound stages.
Shooting within such a natural landscape has its pluses and minuses. It helped with the realism, as the lights were powered by generators, and the water from tanker trucks, but it also meant the show was subject to things like fires. Just as the series was about to wrap a fire engulfed the set. This fire was actually written into the script, as a fire caused by an incendiary bomb attack nearby, and all fire damage shown in the show was real.
In 2007 California State Parks recognized that M * A * S * H was still beloved by many, and set out to do an “environmentally sensitive, partial restoration” of the set, clearing some overgrowth (some of which had totally surrounded the two vehicles left behind by the production), partially restoring an ambulance, and recreating the famous sign post.
As mentioned earlier, the hike is a little over five miles, and includes a pretty steep incline during a portion of it. While the trail starts out wide, it gradually narrows, and is quite rocky underfoot at times. Portions of the trail are shady, but others are in full sun. A cooler day is highly recommended.
Parts of Malibu State Park were also used in Planet of the Apes. Perhaps we’ll get around to returning sometime in the future.
Malibu State Park is located at 1925 Las Virgenes Road in Calabasas. Visit their website for more details.
UPDATE: In November of 2018, the MAS*H site within Malibu Creek State Park was victim once again to a fire, this time the tragic Woolsey Fire that also took out the iconic Paramount Ranch.
Hat: Ricochet, Joshua Tree, California
Hawaiian Shirt: Borrowed from Pat’s closet, but he got it at Tiki Marketplace
Green Clam Diggers: I don’t remember!