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Kapa‘a man once cast movie magic on Kaua‘i, brought iconic ‘Indiana Jones’ scene to life

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James Garner, Tom Summers and Summers’ son on the set of “The Castaway Cowboy.” Photo Courtesy: Tom Summers

In 1970, Tom Summers was in his 20s when he left his Huntington Beach surf shop in California to chase waves on the Garden Isle.

He got a job as an extra in the Walt Disney Productions film “The Castaway Cowboy.” One day, he hosted its star — future Oscar nominee and Emmy winner James Garner — at his beachside home for an afternoon of bodysurfing.

That encounter would lead to an embarrassing story for his wife, Linda, but two decades of work for him in the local film industry, helping to make directors’ visions a reality — while rubbing shoulders with some of Hollywood’s brightest stars.

Summers, who turned 80 last month, looks back fondly on his time spent working — and sometimes playing — alongside the likes of Hervé Villechaize, Harrison Ford, Jeff Bridges, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Tom Selleck, Elliott Gould and Ricky Schroder.

“It was exciting. It was a challenge. I just loved it,” Summers said. “The more they wanted, the more I could give them, so I was a great overtime guy. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s exciting to be able to achieve all these goals.”

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It all started when the amiable Garner, after bodysurfing at the Summers’ house, invited Linda to join them for lunch on the set.

She donned a carefully-chosen outfit and crashed through a field of sugarcane toward the shooting location, ready to be discovered by Hollywood.

She was seen, but not in the way she had anticipated.

“Will the woman in the red shirt and white shorts get the (obscenity) out of my scene?” director Vincent McEveety screamed through a bullhorn.

Linda Summers froze, bewildered. She’d trampled into a clearing surrounded by a small army of cast and crew. Camera lenses bored down on her like gun barrels.

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McEveety continued his tirade: “Get the hell out of there. You’re in the shot.”

She scurried away, her interest in filmmaking and dreams of stardom extinguished for good. But Tom Summers was hooked. While building a career as a carpenter on Kaua‘i, he would go on to serve as a movie extra; photo double; grip; stand-in; prop maker; location scout; and casting director.

The 1981 blockbuster “Raiders of the Lost Ark” introduced the world to the globetrotting archeologist Indiana Jones, a beloved action hero still popular today. The character’s last appearance occurred just last year, when an 80-year-old Harrison Ford donned Indy’s iconic fedora for a final time.

Tom Summers played a vital role in the creation of “Raiders,” when the Steven Spielberg and George Lucas-helmed project arrived on Kaua‘i to shoot its opening sequence. (Spielberg would return to the island approximately 10 years later to shoot “Jurassic Park,” which marked its 30th anniversary in 2023.)

Tom Summers’ son Tyson sits poolside with Harrison Ford. Photo Courtesy: Tom Summers

“Raiders” famously begins as Indy explores an ancient South American temple, searching for a valuable golden idol hidden within. After surviving a series of booby traps triggered by his removal of the treasure, Indy is ultimately forced to give up his prize when he is confronted by a group of Hovitos warriors.

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Summers and several other carpenters constructed the wooden stairway needed to access the temple location built near Nāwiliwili Harbor on the island’s East Side.

“The production crew could go up and down every single day to get to the valley where we filmed the whole thing,” Summers said.

Yet more importantly, Summers cast the Hovitos warriors himself.

“They said they were looking for Peruvian types. I said, ‘Gee, they look like all my friends in Poʻipū,'” he remembered. “So I called all my friends in Po‘ipū. The Javiers, the Gampons and the Balmoreses. Those are three big Filipino families … They ruled Po‘ipū.”

Tom Summers (center) is surrounded by Hovitos warriors played by South Shore surfers. Photo Courtesy: Tom Summers

Summers armed himself with a Polaroid camera and scheduled a meeting at a local park. When his surfing buddies arrived, he took their pictures and mailed the snapshots to Spielberg’s personal assistant, Kathleen Kennedy – who is now president of Lucasfilm.

“She called me up and said, ‘Tom, we love your people. They’re all hired,'” he said.

However, there was a catch. Summers’ friends would have to cut their hair for the film. It was a tall order. Still, he was undaunted.

“He got them [an additional] $200 to cut their hair,” Linda Summers said. “The people of Hawai‘i are very modest, but Tom has a way with people. That’s why these guys agreed to cut their hair like that.”

The end result is a slice of cinematic history.

Tom Summers can recall more Hollywood adventures that occurred before and after his stint on the set of “Raiders.”

He spent a day as a photo double for an absent Jeff Bridges, who starred alongside Jessica Lange in the 1976 “King Kong” remake. (Summers played a total of five roles in that movie, earning $50 a day as an extra.)

Tom, Linda and their son Tyson worked as extras in the made-for-TV werewolf movie “Deathmoon,” shot on the grounds of the famous Coco Palms resort in the late ’70s.

Hervé Villechaize, who played Tattoo on “Fantasy Island,” spent time with Tom Summers and his other son, Damon, when filming on Kaua‘i.

“You’ve got the cutest kid,” Villechaize said. “He just offered me a dollar to be his friend.”

Other celebrities were less outgoing. Tom Selleck — at that time the star of “Magnum, P.I.” — surrounded himself with burly security guards.

“No one was allowed to take pictures of Tom Selleck. No one was supposed to go near him,” said Tom Summers, who snapped Selleck’s photo anyway. He then made several prints of the image and distributed them among friends.

“I’d take this picture and write, ‘Thanks for the great time last night. Love, TS,'” he said. “Because I have the same initials. Tom Selleck and Tom Summers. People would put them on the wall and go, ‘Oh my God, he really signed it?'”

Left: Tom Hanks starred in Tom Summers’ last Hollywood assignment. Right: Tom Summers took advantage of the initials he shares with Tom Selleck (center). Photo Courtesy: Tom Summers

Summers’ time in show business finally came to an end with the completion of “Joe Versus the Volcano,” a 1990 Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie with filming taking place in Honolulu.

“I didn’t like living away from home. I didn’t like living in a hotel,” Summers said. “I didn’t care for that so much. If I had, my career would’ve been next step Hollywood.”

He decided to put his family first. After bidding farewell to the likes of Tom Hanks and others, he fully committed himself to his wife’s real estate business, Summers Realty, which still operates today in downtown Kapa‘a. He now serves as the company’s property manager.

Tom and Linda Summers in their Kapa‘a backyard. Photo: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now

But Summers returns to the filmmaking world when he can. He used his real estate background to lease local buildings for the production of the 2011 film “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and for the 2015 film “Jurassic World.”

Summers is fondly remembered by others still active in the Kaua‘i film industry. Angela Tillson, who works as a location manager and production coordinator, believes Summers helped ensure Kaua‘i remained desirable to Hollywood filmmakers.

“It’s his personality, his intelligence and his vivacious personality and responsibility. If he says he’s going to do something, it gets done,” Tillson said. “The professionalism, that’s what kept bringing movies here.”

Scott Yunker
Scott Yunker is a journalist living on Kauaʻi. His work for community newspapers has earned him awards and inclusion in the 2020 anthology "Corona City: Voices from an Epicenter."
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