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VALLEY WEEKEND | JAUNTS

Tour to Offer Glimpse of Popular Filming Sets

The six-mile scenic trek will take hikers past the backdrops for 'MASH,' 'Dr. Quinn,' 'Fantasy Island' and other TV shows and movies.

June 06, 1996|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you're a "MASH" fan, you probably remember the opening scene on the TV show when the helicopter carrying wounded soldiers lands on a dusty plateau in the back country of Korea.

It was not really Korea, though. The show was filmed on a rugged stretch in the Santa Monica Mountains, now part of Malibu Creek State Park near Agoura Hills.

Not much remains today of the old "MASH" set, but if you want a glimpse into TV and film history, take a six-mile hike Saturday with a National Park Service ranger.

The four-hour hike begins at Paramount Ranch, a re-created Western town on national park land next to Malibu Creek State Park. To start with, ranger Ted Stout will give hikers a quick tour of the Western set where the television show "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" is still filmed.

Then he will lead the way into Malibu Creek State Park, a 6,600-acre wilderness. This is a park with all kinds of scenic wonders--even redwoods, planted in the early part of the century when the area was a hunting and fishing club.

As you hike the park, you might have the strange feeling that you've seen some of this before, and you probably have.

"The interesting thing about the Santa Monica Mountains is that they served as the backdrop for films and television, from the early days to the present," Stout said.

Malibu Creek State Park is the site of the original 20th Century Fox movie ranch, which buzzed with film activity from 1946 to 1975 when it became a park.

There is little evidence of that today in this pristine spot. A parking lot now covers a cement pond used for the filming of "Tora, Tora, Tora" and the "Poseidon Adventure." The park's many film credits include "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Dr. Doolittle," "Sand Pebbles," "Lost Horizons," "Planet of the Apes," "Fantasy Island" and television's "Swiss Family Robinson."

Perhaps the best known of all these was the set for television's "MASH," located about 2.5 miles from the main parking lot near Las Virgenes Road and Mulholland Highway.

You'll see it on the hike, but don't expect much. Not much remains--only a rusted out Jeep and ambulance, apparently left for sentimental reasons. A sign indicates the location, but devoted "MASH" followers should recognize the rugged terrain.

During the "MASH" filming years, the cast and crew drove to the set from the other side of the park. Weather conditions were sometimes extreme--either very hot or very cold. After the park was created, shooting was done by special permission until the final episode in 1983.

According to Stout, there is speculation that the cast and crew buried a time capsule somewhere on the old set, containing memorabilia from the show.

At the Malibu Creek State Park visitor center, you can see photos of the "MASH" set. Depending on your devotion to the series, you can also buy for $1 a simulated dog tag, like the ones worn by the show's actors, that says, "I hiked to the MASH site."

The hiking route will also take you to other historical ground. During the 1950s, former President Ronald Reagan owned a 300-acre ranch in the northwest corner of what is now the park. He never lived at the ranch, called Yearling Row, and instead used it to raise thoroughbred horses.

He owned it when he hosted the TV show "Death Valley Days." After he was elected governor in 1966, he sold it. Not much remains for hikers to see. Although a barn still stands, a small ranch house has since been demolished.

While Malibu Creek State Park shows few signs of its filming history, the Paramount Ranch is alive with it. Shooting for "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" goes on weekdays and the public is welcome to watch. The show's summer hiatus, however, begins July 2.

The Western set with its weathered buildings, quaint chapel and schoolhouse is used primarily for the show, which is about a frontier doctor practicing medicine in early Colorado Springs. But the area has a rich film history.

Paramount Pictures bought 2,700 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains in 1927 that were perfect for filming Westerns: oak groves, grasslands, creeks, canyons. For 20 years, Paramount used it for a variety of movies ranging from "Wells Fargo" to "The Adventures of Marco Polo," set in China.

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In those days, it was five times the size it is now, with eight permanent sets. Stout said the commissary, one of the few original buildings still standing, fed as many as 500 people a day.

After the studio sold the land, it was divided up and sets were torn down. Filming revived there in the 1950s with television Westerns such as "The Cisco Kid" and "Bat Masterson." In 1980 the National Park Services bought the remains of the movie ranch, 436 acres, and revitalized the set, making it a tourist attraction.

DETAILS

* WHAT: Six-mile hike through Paramount Ranch and Malibu Creek State Park.

* WHEN: 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

* WHERE: Meet at Paramount Ranch parking lot, located south of Agoura Hills on Cornell Road in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

* HOW MUCH: Free.

* FYI: Bring water and lunch. Wear sturdy shoes.

* CALL: (818) 597-9192.

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