By Michael Aushenker
When F.B.I. most wanted list criminal James “Whitey” Bulger was arrested two years ago at his Santa Monica apartment on Fourth Street after eluding law enforcement for 16 years, Ken Kokin could not believe his eyes and ears. The filmmaker had been working on biopic of the notorious mobster. Little did he know that the fugitive, convicted of scores of murders, lived only four blocks away from his Ocean Avenue home.
It’s an interesting coincidence, considering Kokin was one of the producers of the 1995 crime caper “The Usual Suspects,” in which elusive criminal mastermind “Keyser Söze” hides in plain sight.
Kokin will discuss his entertainment career on Saturday in the sea cave at Leo Carrillo State Park in Malibu, where a key scene from “The Usual Suspects” was shot, during a celebration of the park’s 60th anniversary.
The park has long been a hotbed for film shoots: “Gidget,” “Beach Blanket Bingo,” “Crossroads,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” “Grease,” “That Thing You Do” and “The Karate Kid” all filmed scenes there.
During Saturday’s event, scenes from several of the films shot at Leo Carrillo will be screened inside the park’s world-famous cavern.
“The sea cave at Leo Carrillo State Park is the perfect setting for romance, suspense and horror, and that’s why it’s the ideal location for a natural movie theater,” said film scholar and author Harry Medved. ”It will be great fun seeing clips from ‘The Usual Suspects’ inside the very cave it was shot.”
Kokin said the cave was perfect for a night scene in “The Usual Suspects” in which underworld figures, played by Kevin Spacey, Kevin Pollak, Gabriel Byrne and Stephen Baldwin dig a grave for the corpse of Benicio Del Toro’s character.
“It made all the difference,” Kokin said. A generic beachhead “would’ve been a cheesy choice.”
‘Like a chameleon’
The festivities to celebrate Leo Carrillo State Park’s six decades kick off at 7 p.m. Friday, with a screening of 1959’s “Gidget,” while the real-life Malibu resident who inspired the Sally Field character, Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, will appear on Saturday to sign copies of her memoir.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, Medved, co-author of “Location Filming in Los Angeles,” will conduct a conversation with Kokin. There will also be tours of Leo Carrillo, including the sea cave inside which, at 3:30 p.m. during low tide, Medved will screen a montage of clips from films (“Inception,” “The Karate Kid,” “Point Break”) that utilized the cave.
“Carrillo features the most famous beach rocks in the world, thanks to their appearances in hundreds of movies, TV shows and ads shot there,” Medved said.
The park is “almost like a chameleon,” said Kathi Northrop, event chair and vice-president of Santa Monica Mountains Natural History Association “It has big rocks and cliffs. It has coves. It has the open ocean. It has the cave.”
“I’ve seen it become Hawaii. I’ve seen it become Cape Cod,” Northrup continued. “It just morphs into what you need it to be.”
At 7 p.m. Saturday, “The Beach Girls and the Monster” and “Attack of the Crab Monsters” will screen. Actor Arnold Lessing, who acted in the former as well as “The Girls on the Beach,” also shot in 1965 at Leo Carrillo, will talk about “Beach Girls.”
Lessing, who also played Lieutenant Carlisle in “The Changeling” episode of the original “Star Trek” series, recently retired from teaching guitar at Santa Monica College. The accomplished flamenco guitarist penned songs for the soundtrack of “Beach Girls,” including “More Than Wanting You.”
The event will also include ‘50s surf bands, a surfing invitational, food trucks, local vendors, a climbing wall and arts and crafts for kids and free wine tastings, courtesy of Malibu’s Rosenthal Vineyards, for the adults.
‘In your … backyard”
Kokin grew up in Mar Vista and attended Mar Vista Elementary School and recalled watching filmmaker Blake Edwards shoot the 1986 movie “Blind Date” in the neighborhood.
Cut to 2011, and as the Bulger arrest unfolded, Kokin was noodling away at a movie based on “Rat Bastards: The Life and Times of South Boston’s Most Honorable Irish Mobster,” a biography of Bulger, with its author, John “Red” Shea, a former underworld figure who had worked for Bulger.
Kokin learned of Bulger’s undoing on a phone call with Shea.
Kokin recalled asking his collaborator where Bulger was captured and Shea, in his thick Bostonian brogue, snapping: “Where was he? He was in your [expletive] backyard, you nitwit!”
Kokin wonders if he might’ve passed by Bulger on Ocean Avenue.
“If I would’ve heard that Southie talk, I would’ve recognized him,” Kokin insisted. “I would’ve either been $2 million richer, or I’d be dead.”
The Santa Monica Mountains Natural History Association and California State Parks ‘ 60th Birthday Bash for Leo Carrillo State Park takes place Saturday and Sunday at 35000 W. Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. The event is free. For more information, visit parks.ca.gov.
The Unusual Suspect: Santa Monica filmmaker Ken Kokin talks “Whitey” Bulger and Keyser Söze on Saturday at Leo Carrillo State Park
By Michael Aushenker