Leo Carrillo State Park to celebrate historical ties to Hollywood

On Oct. 19, a 60th Birthday Bash for Leo Carrillo State Park will feature a classic car show, ‘50s music, a surfing invitational and a screening of some of the movies that have filmed in the park over the decades — all free to the public.
(Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)

The park is named after the late actor and conservationist Leo Carrillo, who played the comic sidekick Pancho in the 1950s Western TV series “The Cisco Kid.”

Located along Pacific Coast Highway near the Los Angeles-Ventura County line, it has doubled for Iwo Jima, the Caribbean and Hawaii.

For six decades, Leo Carrillo State Park has been one of the most popular beaches, not only for Los Angeles residents but for location scouts.

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From “Grease” to “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Letters From Iwo Jima,” the scenic stretch of beach has been featured in countless movies, TV shows and commercials.


Now the park known as “movie beach” is celebrating its historical ties to Hollywood.

On Oct. 19, the Santa Monica Mountains Natural History Assn. and California State Parks will host a 60th Birthday Bash for Leo Carrillo State Park with a classic car show, ‘50s music, a surfing invitational and a screening of some of the movies that have filmed in the park over the decades — all free to the public.

“We just wanted to celebrate the park,” said Kathi Northrop, a park host and volunteer who is helping to organize the event. “Even though people may not have visited the park … they’ve seen it in just about every beach scene.”

Guests will include Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, the inspiration for “Gidget,” the 1959 film starring Sandra Dee and one of several beach culture movies that filmed at Leo Carrillo, including “Beach Blanket Bingo.”

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Also invited to speak at the event is B-movie director Roger Corman, who filmed so many movies at Carrillo it was known for a time as “Corman Beach.” His “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” “Viking Women and the Sea Serpent” and “Monster From the Ocean Floor” were all shot at Carrillo.

Two of the big attractions for the park are the unusual rock formations and sea cave, where Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Pollak and Gabriel Byrne dug a grave for the body of Benicio Del Toro’s character in “The Usual Suspects.”

“It’s an amazing park,” said Kenneth Kokin, a producer on “The Usual Suspects.” “It’s one of the best beaches and it’s close to Los Angeles. Having that cave there was a great visual.”

For the Clint Eastwood movie “Letters From Iwo Jima,” producers used the beach to film a scene in which Japanese soldiers build a fortification in the black, volcanic sand. They imported six truckloads of black cinder from the Calico mines area near Barstow to simulate the dark sand, which was placed on a plastic sheet to separate it from the beach sand.

“It definitely helped us keep the production here, otherwise we would have had to go to Hawaii,” said Steve Beimler, location manager for the film.

The park’s namesake, Leo Carrillo, was related to early California settlers — his great-grandfather was one of the last Mexican governors of California — and served for many years on the state beaches and parks commissions, through which he helped the state secure large tracts of coastal parkland, according to California State Parks literature.

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Tony Hoffman, film coordinator for the Angeles District of California State Parks, said Carrillo is the second-most-requested location for filming among California’s state parks — after El Matador State Beach in Malibu.

“It’s within the 30-mile zone, it has incredible geography and it’s very affordable,” he said. Productions beyond the zone cost more because union rules require payments for travel time and mileage expenses. The park charges $65 to $1,500 a day for filming, depending on the size of the shoot.

Recent productions at Carrillo have included the Helen Hunt surfing movie “Ride,” commercials for Kia and Nike, and episodes of the TV series “Revenge,” “The Mentalist” and “American Horror Story.”

“There were all these zombie extras in the parking lot and they were sitting around the catering trucks,” Northrop said of the “American Horror Story” shoot. “It was an amazing scene.”

At the Oct. 19 birthday bash, Kokin and other filmmakers will be interviewed by local historian Harry Medved at 2 p.m., followed by a 3:30 p.m. film compilation of popular “movie beach” films such as “Inception” “The Karate Kid” and “Point Break” screened inside the sea cave, serving as “a natural movie theater.”

Where the cameras roll: Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc.; cities of Beverly Hills, Pasadena and Santa Clarita. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times


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