Living legend” of theater Natividad “Naty” Crame Rogers—who made famous the roles of Paula, the seduced spinster in Lamberto Avellana’s 1965 screen adaptation of Nick Joaquin’s play “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino,” and Leonor Rivera, Rizal’s true love—will turn 97 years old in the last week of December. The family is planning a grand party and a full program for the momentous event.
The actress’ one and only movie role was in Avellana’s “Portrait,” where she held her own as Paula against the more showy role of Daisy Avellana, who played Candida, the strong-willed older sister.
The shooting lasted for two months and took place in a beautiful ancestral home in Biñan, Laguna, which was haunted by ghosts. Once a mysterious visitor appeared before the director. When Avellana reported this to the owner, she said simply, “Oh, that’s my father. He died years ago.”
Things kept disappearing, including a shawl Rogers needed. She prayed to the spirits not to play jokes on her, and in a few minutes the shawl was found.
One of the ghosts fell in love with the handsome leading man, Conrad Parhan, the seducer, and after the shooting even followed him to his house!
Rogers’ other famous role (one of many through the decades) was that of Leonor Rivera in the plays of Severino Montano of the Arena Theater. She became professionally close to Montano, who was one of those authoritarian directors of the late 20th century. And so, when she felt she was in the right, she argued with him.
Another important experience was with Rolando Tinio’s Teatro Pilipino. For the company’s production of “Romeo and Juliet,” Rogers expected that she would be given the role of Lady Capulet, in keeping with her “haughty” persona.
To her surprise, Tinio gave her the role of Juliet’s nurse. Surprise turned to dismay when she reread the play and found that the nurse had many bawdy, earthy lines. But, being a pro, she just “disappeared” into the role and gave it all she had.
Born in Cavite (and later married to Lt. Joe Rogers, a half- American pilot who endured the horrors of the Bataan Death March), the actress studied at St. Scholastica’s College, and remains a loyal Scholastican.
Then it was on to the University of the Philippines (when Pearl Harbor was bombed and Japanese warplanes were winging their way to the Philippines), a Fulbright scholarship in the United States, and finally a doctorate from the University of Santo Tomas.
She became a director, teacher, mentor to many young actors, and founder of the Sala Theater, plays performed in her living room.
She has received many awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from Philstage (Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group).
Writing in this newspaper, drama critic Cora Llamas reported that Rogers “was wheeled to the stage to receive her award but otherwise delivered her speech in a strong voice sans notes and with admirable humility, as she acknowledged the many mentors and fellow artists that she said had molded her throughout the years.”
One award denied her is that of national artist. Well, she is in good company. There are many who richly deserve this coveted award but have not been given the honor. Let me cite my choirmaster, composer Jerry Dadap; my high school teacher Onofre Pagsanghan, Tony Mabesa, Cecile Guidote Alvarez, et al. And there are those who have been proclaimed but… well, never mind.
Rogers shrugs off this snub from the board members of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and proclaims her credo: “We are children of the light—you and I. Every time we fully realize ourselves in drama and the theater, we feel our immortality.”