Festival details movie history at Malibu Creek State Park

Screenings of “Return of the Jedi,” “Planet of the Apes” and a “M*A*S*H*” Malibu hike highlight State Parks fundraiser.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

Call it a sci-fi “M*A*S*H*”-up. A fundraiser that will include an entry from two of 20th Century Fox’s most popular science-fiction franchises, “Star Wars” and “Planet of the Apes,” and a tour of the Malibu area where scenes from the Emmy-winning series “M*A*S*H*” were filmed, are part of an ambitious benefit taking place this coming Saturday and on Nov. 6-7 that will spotlight Malibu Creek State Park. “Star Wars” actors Mark Hamill (“Luke Skywalker”) and Billy Dee Williams (“Lando Calrissian”), and actor Elliott Gould, who portrayed Trapper John in the “M*A*S*H*” motion picture, as well as cast members of the TV version will appear in person.

Proceeds from this second annual “State Parks Film Fest” will benefit the California State Parks Foundation, an independent nonprofit dedicated to protecting the 1.8 million acres of the nation’s largest park system.

The fundraiser kicks off Saturday with two guided tours of Malibu Creek State Park, where parts of Robert Altman’s Oscar-winning 1970 movie “M*A*S*H*”-and the long-running (1972-83) CBS sitcom it inspired-were filmed, with the Malibu site doubling for Korea.

Brian Rooney, who restored the “M*A*S*H*” set two years ago after it had fallen into disrepair, will serve as docent on the Oct. 30 hikes.

“It’s a cultural treasure what they’ve got there,” Rooney said. “There are other places that are more beautiful, but the Redwoods aren’t well known in India or China. They do know “M*A*S*H*.”

Rooney said the restoration began when “people started complaining that there was nothing to see in late 2007, as the 25th anniversary of ‘M*A*S*H*’ rapidly approached. The ‘M*A*S*H*’ set had not been touched in the 24 years since they last shot there. Nature took its course.”

Rooney felt compelled to act.

“I cleared the excess brush,” he said. “We rebuilt the famous sign post. We have four displays on a full-time basis and picnic tables where the mess tent stood in the show on CBS.”

He readied the site for February 2008, when the program’s cast and crew reunited, and even arranged for bubble-windowed Bell 47 Korean War choppers to fly overhead.

Now a resident of West Los Angeles, Rooney, author of the book “Three Magical Miles,” detailing the rich local history of “the Mulholland Scenic Corridor,” said he undertook the project because living at Malibou Lake from 1993-2000 has kept him connected to his erstwhile neighborhood.

“People around the world are coming here,” he said. “It used to be 50 people a month; it’s now 500 people a month.”

“Brian’s been a great resource with us to get in touch with the cast,” said Manny Grace, senior vice president and counsel for the Walt Disney Company, who will chair next weekend’s film series.

A State Parks Foundation board member for eight years, the Burlington, Mass. native has always appreciated the nation’s 278 state parks and he wanted to connect his profession with his passion.

“Malibu Creek State Park has been the location of [myriad] television and motion picture filming use,” Grace said, listing “How Green is My Valley?” and “The Great Dictator.”

Around the corner from the “M*A*S*H*” set is where Ape City, the simian metropolis introduced in the first “Planet of the Apes” (1968), stood.

“There’s a body of water right in front of Ape City, Century Lake, where pieces of ‘Seven Year Itch’ and ‘Love Me Tender’ were filmed,” Rooney said. “Remember the famous cliff jump from ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?’ The actors themselves were in Utah and jumped five feet onto a platform, but where they end up [via editing] is in Century Lake.”

On Saturday, Nov. 6, the film festival begins midday with “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.” Actor Williams will introduce the movie while Hamill and Yoda puppeteer David Barclay will speak post-screening. The movie “M*A*S*H” will screen afterward, followed by an appearance by Gould. Two episodes of the TV “M*A*S*H” series will screen at night, tailgated by a panel with actors William Christopher (Father Mulcahy) and Jeff Maxwell (Igor the Cook), director Charles S. Dubin, cocreator Gene Reynolds, producer Burt Metcalfe, writer Ken Levine, and medical advisor Dr. Walter Dishell.

On Sun., Nov. 7, “Spartacus,” the 1960 sword-and-sandals epic featuring Tony Curtis (who died last month), screens midday on the Fox lot in Century City. Archivist Robert O’Neil, who restored the Stanley Kubrick film with extra footage, will present the 50-year-old classic. The original “Planet of the Apes” will screen in the evening, followed by a discussion with actor Lou Wagner (Lucius), art director William Creber and makeup artist Daniel Striepeke, moderated by Hollywood locations authority Harry Medved.

A montage of 46 film clips of iconic scenes shot at state parks (representing everything from “Gone With the Wind” to “Iron Man”) will also be shown.

“Our whole idea is to get people to go and visit the parks,” said Grace, who originally hoped to have the Film Fest up by Nov. 2 to create awareness for Prop. 21, which aims to secure funding for state parks by charging an $18 vehicle registration fee that will go into the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund.

“It’s a very financially precarious time for the parks,” Grace said.

Threatened by state budget cuts are park maintenance and the parks themselves. Grace said passing the proposition would free up $130 million for the state government.

“Visitors [would] also no longer have to pay the daily use fees,” he added.

With both “Apes” and “M*A*S*H*” to screen, Grace said this will be an opportunity to see these movies (and Malibu Creek) on the big screen, the way they were intended.

“It’s a great family event,” he said.

More information and tickets on the Film Fest can be obtained online at calparks.org/filmseries or by calling 877.663.0566.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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