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Nestor Torre provided a great foil for his co-host Elvira Manahan in “Two for the Road.” Photo courtesy of Tats Manahan
Culture

One more for the road: Remembering Nestor Torre

“In the 70s and 80s, when Nestor Torre wrote about you, it felt like you were walking on air for several days.” 
JEROME B. GOMEZ | Apr 11 2021

Inquirer readers will remember him for Boob-tube Boo-boos—a section in his Viewfinder column that recounted often hilarious verbal mishaps from local live TV. If you spent late nights glued to the small screen in the early 80s, you might remember him as the restrained half of the chic and very engaging tandem who hosted the late night talk show, “Two for the Road.” 

But really there was no part of Philippine media and entertainment that Nestor U. Torre’s talent did not touch. He wrote and edited for the newspapers, acted and directed plays, wrote and directed movies (even acted in one—Eddie Romero’s “Hari sa Hari, Lahi sa Lahi”), hosted and directed TV shows. As a young man in his hometown Cagayan de Oro in the 60s, he did radio productions over at Radio Mindanao Network. He even wrote and published a children’s book—“Calypso: The Pig That Almost Became Lechon.” 

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With Elvira Manahan. Photo courtesy of Tats Manahan

One would imagine that if he wasn’t too stubbornly old school he may even have given Facebook a chance. It’s just that the guy, referred to by his initials NUT by some friends and colleagues, was a creature of a different time. He even got his mobile phone only later in life, says friend and namesake, Nestor Cuartero, the entertainment editor—but he still preferred to make telebabad using the landline. 

Those who’ve worked with the multi-hyphenate Nestor immediately point out his devotion to writing in yellow pad paper, even as the rest of the world have gotten used to typing on the computer. “He only wrote on yellow pad in very neat handwriting,” says the writer Frank Cimatu, who shares in his Facebook post on Nestor that the company gave the latter his own room to write. “So while the others were frantic on their desktops he was just there sitting alone in the all-glass room.” 

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Nestor would direct and write "Two for the Road" first before appearing in front of the camera when it was revived in 1979 over GMA Channel 7. Photo courtesy of Tats Manahan

When he was writing a weekly column for Mr & Ms Magazine in the late 70s and 80s, Cuartero remembers the editorial room typesetter, a lady by the name of Nita, “whining about having to typeset each and every column” of the longhand practitioner. Although it seems that’s all one can really complain about when it comes to NUT’s manuscript. “He was a man of few words, yet when he wrote, the words overflowed and overwhelmed the reader,” wrote Cuartero in a recent column. “They were always on-point, not quite subtle, suggestive and corrective, like the critic that he was.” 

On television, Nestor Torre provided a great foil for the chatty, exuberant, larger-than-life Elvira Manahan, his co-host in “Two for the Road.” Nestor, of medium height and build during those younger days, was “mild mannered, erudite and gentlemanly on-cam,” as writer Isidra Reyes describes him. “He was always quite serious with his work,” recalls talent manager and stage producer Girlie Rodis who produced “Two for the Road” in its last few months.

Was there a difference between Nestor on cam and off? “Well, he was a little stiffer on cam,” says Girlie, “more relaxed off but Elvira was very good at putting him at ease.” 

Work was indeed no laughing matter to Nestor, as comedian and longtime friend Mitch Valdes recalls to ANCX, echoing Girlie’s observation. The actress and director met during the former’s ‘internship’ at Repertory Philippines when she was only 16 years old. “He would take actors aside and speak to them individually and quietly about how your character would react to the moment,” recalls Mitch. “Never dictated the process how to get there but what should be happening. He allows you to go on an adventure of character exploration.” 

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With the original and updated cast of Katy! The Musical, at the tribute to the columnist and stage director at the CCP.  Photo courtesy of Girlie Rodis

Nestor famously directed Mitch in 1988 in the landmark production of “Katy!,” the musical play on the life of vaudeville star Katy Dela Cruz. While the guy was patient during rehearsals and respected his actors’ intelligence, he knew when to crack the whip. “He wasn’t above yelling in theatric boom if a frisky group of actors are having too much fun and not focusing,” Mitch recalls. “[He was] Very good at cutting you down to size if you were lazy and not prepared. He belonged to that era. They all taught me I am your friend and we can drink and eat and crawl home in the morning after rehearsals but be ready to work after. And if you get the scene and it was good, he would nod. I think he was the last of the Mohicans.”

Like Mitch, Nestor had worked with Celeste Legaspi before the OPM icon became his producer in “Katy!” where she also played a part onstage—that of a fictional star on her way out of the spotlight. Nestor and Celeste were co-actors in Rolando Tinio’s production of “Prinsipe Baldovino” and “Negosyante ng Venezia,” and he directed her in the Filipino translation of “Jesus Christ Superstar” (she was Magdalene to Rico J’s Judas). 

“It was Nestor who approached me with the idea of playing Mommy Kate in a musical he was conceiving. I immediately knew this is a project I would love to do but not as Katy.. as a producer!” Celeste recalls of how "Katy! The Musical" came about. She told him Mitch would be a better choice for the role but that she would like to produce it, together with her manager Girlie Rodis. 

Nestor would be the first director Celeste would work with in her new capacity as producer. “And since I had a vision of producing excellent material I was kinda in his face a lot of times. I was always showing him pegs for looks and approaches; was always suggesting all sorts of ideas,” Celeste recalls to ANCX. “He was always open and willing to listen. Never arrogant about being the director who needs to be followed at all times.” 

To hear Celeste say it, Nestor, despite his stature, worked with them as one of the team. “We worked together on tricky requirements of the script. On sensitive dealings with Mommy Kate. And when he had wonderful ideas Girlie and I did our absolute best to find the money to realize them.”

Nestor knew he was working on something special. “He was very thorough and conscientious,” says Girlie. 

Because of the good working relationship they have formed, Celeste and Nestor, and Girlie, would work on other productions together after “Katy!” The singer and actress loved his openness and humility, but also his way of unraveling a narrative. 

“Nestor always knew how to effectively tell a story. I particularly loved his transitions to show the seamless passing of time and age. And he knew how to get the most from his actors. I remember fondly a rehearsal in the lobby of the Rizal Theater where he put Mitch and I through the wringer in front of the whole cast for [the song number] ‘Minsan ang Minahal Ay Ako.’ He didn’t stop until we were both where the song should take us.” 

In his more than 50 years working in media and entertainment, Nestor has won many recognitions, like multiple Palanca awards for his plays, and was elevated to the Catholic Mass Media Awards Hall of Fame for Viewfinder, his column at the Inquirer. As his write up in the CCP Encyclopedia notes, he is one of the few critics who have consistently reviewed entertainment and media over nearly half a century, stopping only, according to his friend Nestor Cuartero, when he suffered a stroke in 2018. His immersion in the world of television, stage and movies, having worked in them in different creative capacities, gave his criticism a singularity and credibility. He treated his work, the many forms and facets of it, with great passion and seriousness because, having the eye of a critic, he noticed everything and looked at everything. “In the 70s and 80s when Nestor Torre wrote about you it felt like you are walking on air for several days,” Celeste posted on Facebook the day the news of Nestor’s passing broke. “Of course if he ignored you, it felt like you just didn’t exist. That was how important Nestor was for us all.” 

[Special thanks to Isidra Reyes}