Edward Summer passed away on Thursday from cancer. I had the good fortune to have become friends with him over the course of the past few years.
To fans and historians of Star Wars, Ed is probably most well known for having started the first comic book store in New York, Supersnipe, in the early 70s, through which he came to know and go into business with Lucas for the accompanying comic book art gallery. A more gracious man I’ve never known. He had an almost childlike glee about movies and comics, and shared his stories freely, and at length. He’ll be remembered for his love and dedication to movies and comics thanks to the Buffalo Film Festival and of course Supersnipe, I’ll always remember him for his unbounded enthusiasm.
Doyers Street is a small 200 foot long street on the outskirts of Chinatown in New York, marked by a sharp bend in the middle. It’s known as ‘the bloody angle’ thanks to the early 1900s Tong Gangs of Chinatown and their proclivity to murder one another, gun and hatchet (thus the term, hatchet man). That was the first of many stories Ed told me at our first face-to-face interview at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor. That’s been there, in the bloody angle since 1927 by the way, that was the second story.
Ed loved telling stories, and he had many of them. And he loved Chinatown. I got the feeling that although he had grown up in and still lived part-time in Buffalo, where he managed the Buffalo Film Festival, his real home was New York. But in particular Chinatown. He had studied Chinese as a young man (he explained that it had come out of thinking that the characters of the Chinese alphabet were like picograms, that when placed together told a visual story, not unlike comic books), and liked speaking it with whomever he could.
On one occasion we were walking down Bowery after lunch at Congee, and he was pointing out to me where the old cinemas he used to take in Chinese martial arts films used to be. He loved those films and we ended up in a small basement DVD store (again, a place I would have walked blindly by) where we spent a while just browsing and talking about films. I walked out of there with Come Drink With Me (he was right, it’s a phenomenal film). He loved adventures, and we both shared a love of John Carter. We complained about its bungled launch; he was happy that it was making its money back in DVD sales.
He had an uncanny knack for remembering names, and would often spell them out, just to be sure I was getting it right. He was meticulous about making sure people were recognized for their efforts and often encouraged me to find out more about teachers and friends he told me about. He would chastise me, in a friendly manner, if I didn’t know or remember someone whom he thought was integral to the history of film. Legacy was important to him. He talked about Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and the misconception of the self-made man. He mused about how he and Lucas’s careers overlapped in funny ways in those early years. He maintained that he never in a million years would have come up with the idea for Star Wars.
I last met Ed in June on the Upper West Side. He was in the hospital recovering from surgery. It was a beautiful day, and he took me to a small russian bakery just down the street. He wasn’t supposed to leave, but he sweet-talked the nurses into letting him off the hook for fifteen minutes. He was too nice to say no to. We stayed out for over an hour. He was also mischievous. Drinking hot chocolate and eating pastry, he told me the story of St. John the Divine, the cathedral across the street, and how it had been continually under construction since 1892. We marveled at the craftsmanship. The dogged persistence. Then he talked of double-dating as a young man with Scorsese. As I walked him back to the hospital, he encouraged me to take a walk in the cathedral garden; say hi to the peacocks.
He called me a few weeks ago to ask a favor. We agreed to meet again soon.
Thank you for your friendship, Ed.
I'm in the process of transcribing our interviews, and will put them here when they are ready.