M*A*S*H TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER.
CALABASAS - Brian Rooney knew the shooting location for the TV series "M*A*S*H" was a global sensation when he found six Britons crawling over its remains.
A quarter-century after the last blare of "incoming choppers," virtually nothing was left at the old Fox Ranch -- no large canvas tents; no big arrows pointing to Boston, Seoul or Coney Island; no plaque commemorating the spot where the most-watched TV episode in U.S. history was filmed.
But that didn't stop the Brits from making a two-mile trek to the shoot site to see a rusting Army ambulance, a jeep and a helipad lined with weeds.
"They were just complete fanatics of 'M*A*S*H,'" said Rooney, a Santa Monica Mountains historian who would later meet two German fans searching for the location at Malibu Creek State Park. "This is an ongoing television phenomenon 25 years later -- and still going strong."
Today, state parks officials will join the first reunion of the legendary "M*A*S*H" cast in a public celebration of official recognition and renewal of the original outdoor set.
They will plant a new "M*A*S*H" signpost made by Rooney and two volunteers.
They will mark the sites of the famous "M*A*S*H" surgical tent, Hawkeye and B.J.'s Swamp, and other set features inhabited by the fictional 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.
And they will hail the 11-year series whose final episode on Feb. 28, 1983, drew 105million viewers, or two out of three homes in America. It remains the most-watched episode in U.S. TV history, knocking off the "Who Shot J.R.?" episode of "Dallas."
In the works are interpretive panels and a "viewing window" to help visitors imagine the Korean War world of Hawkeye, Trapper John, B.J., Hot Lips, Radar and more.
"Visitors come from all over the world to see where it was filmed," said Al Pepito, Malibu superintendent for the state parks department. "We want to give them something more."
Park rangers also want to hail the film legacy of the old Fox Ranch, where such films as "Planet of the Apes," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "How Green Was My Valley" were shot.
Based on the 1970 hit film "MASH," the 251 episodes of the 20th Century Fox series aired on CBS from 1972 to 1983. Its ensemble cast, which starred Alan Alda as Capt. Hawkeye Pierce, helped propel the show to win 14 Emmy Awards.
"I will not carry a gun, Frank," Hawkeye declared during one "M*A*S*H" episode. "When I got thrown into this war, I had a clear understanding with the Pentagon: no guns.
"I'll carry your books, I'll carry a torch, I'll carry a tune, I'll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash and carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I'll even 'hari-kari' if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!"
Before its last episode, a brush fire destroyed the set and writers incorporated it into the 2 1/2-hour "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen" finale.
For its creators -- many of whom will be on hand during today's event -- the black comedy about a Korean War surgical outpost was an allegory for the battle for Vietnam.
"It was a great experience, the best experience I ever had on TV," said award-winning "M*A*S*H" co-producer Gene Reynolds, who hired Alda and went on to produce the TV series "Lou Grant." Charlie S. Dubin, who directed 43 "M*A*S*H" episodes, said the aim of the series was to illustrate the comedy and tragedy of war. And he said it was some of his best work.
Mike Farrell, who played the smiling Capt. B.J. Hunnicut, said "M*A*S*H" spurred his finest performances, now enjoyed by a new generation of TV buffs.
His visit to the set today will mark his first in 25 years.
"All of us realized we did great work, and never realized it was to become the social phenomenon it became," Farrell said.
WANT TO GO?
Malibu Creek State Park will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the last episode of "M*A*S*H" with a film-set ceremony from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas. Prepare for a two-mile hike to the original TV series set.
2 photos, box
(1 -- color) Cast members of the "M*A*S*H" series will take part in a public reunion today at the shooting location in Malibu Creek State Park.
20th Century Fox
(2) Mike Farrell (Capt. B.J. Hunnicut) left, Alan Alda (Capt. Benjamin "Hawkeye" Pierce), and David Ogden Stiers (Maj. Charles Emerson Winchester), starred in "M*A*S*H," which ran from 1972 to 1983.
20th Century Fox
WANT TO GO? (see text)