Along with Al Quinn and Mitos Villareal, Rollie Grande was one of the most sought-after TV directors during the 1970s. In fact, Grande was the first TV director to have a job when broadcast activities resumed after Martial Law was declared.
Now 72 and happily retired in Florida after living for a while in Germany with his wife, Direk Rollie recalled the many facets of his broadcast career in an interview with InterAksyon.
“My career began in 1953 as a child actor in a popular radio show called ‘Eskuwelahang Munti’ produced by Tinno Lapuz. After that, Bob Stewart, known as Uncle Bob, trained me to be a radio announcer, and I later became known as Mister Bluejeans for my show, ‘Blujeans Bandstand’ in 1957,” he narrated.
Grande then landed his first directorial job at the helm of “Dance Time With Chito” with Chito Feliciano for Channel 7’s Republic Broadcast System (now GMA Network). But it wasn’t until the late ’60s when his career really took off after Ben Aniceto of ABS-CBN plucked him from his cushy job as an advertising executive.
“I joined ABS-CBN and became promo director for Channel 2’s Live Promo. It was there that I also directed ‘Super Laff-In,’ a new gag show,” he revealed.
Starring then unknowns Ramon Zamora, Maya Valdez (now Mitch Valdez) and June Keithley among many others, “Super Laff-In” was patterned after the then popular “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In” show in the US. It had a very successful run of four years and is now considered the forerunner of other local gag shows such as “Bubble Gang.”
“I never had any experience with censorship in any of my guys but there were some skits in ‘Super Laff-In’ that members of Congress were not too happy about,” he further recalled.
Other shows he directed at about the same time were “Tirso Cruz III: His Music and Friends” featuring the then teen idol and his guests, “Sunday, Sweet Sunday” with Fides Cuyugan-Asensio and Jimmy Melendres and “Aquarius,” a show where “actors and hosts performed in the middle of the audience similar to Shakespeare’s Glove Theater.”
And then Martial Law was declared, and for a while all TV stations were shut down.
“I was assigned right away to direct Nora Aunor’s ‘Superstar’ which was the only local variety show on the air. But I also got the chance to direct Vilma Santos in another show called ‘Hitmakers’ that was produced by Vicor Recording Company,” he vividly remembered.
And just how big were Nora and Vilma back in those days?
“Those were the two biggest stars of those years. When the closing credits of ‘Superstar’ started rolling, I would rush to the parking area and drive anywhere to escape the fans of Nora Aunor.”
Another popular show that Grande went on to direct was “Okay Lang,” a gag show similar to “Super Laff-In” but with a much younger cast. Among them was the Apo Hiking Society, the late Ricky Manalo, Jr. who he would later direct the sitcom, “Baltic & Co.” and a funny trio that would later come to be known as Tito, Vic and Joey.
It was also right about the same time that Grande was also assigned to direct “The Hitmakers”, which also featured Cocoy Laurel, Joey De Leon, Manalo, Lulette Moran and Manolo Favis. He was saddened that the show was only short-lived as he particularly enjoyed working with Ate Vi.
“Vilma Santos was very professional in her work habits but it was Tony Santos, Sr. who directed her for a long time while I was more in the camp of Nora. Tony and I often spent time over scotch talking about our next gimmick to stir the fans of Nora and Vilma,” he fondly confessed.
In the case of Martial Law, Direk Rollie was not totally caught by surprise by its declaration.
“I knew what was happening, I was already working for CBS News for Television. I was aware that Martial Law would be declared. I had done a lot of interviews with Marcos even before Martial Law and then after it was in effect,” he admitted.
He also directed a lot of TV specials for the Marcoses.
“I will not officiallly say I was the TV Director of Malacañang, but I did most of their specials for Channel 4. I directed the biggest Fashion Show of Mrs. Marcos held at Nayong Pilipino with a cast of thousands, mostly models from all over Asia. Then I directed a Malacañang project called ‘Asian Sports’ held at Folk Arts Theatre also under the supervision of Mrs. Marcos.”
Grande conceded that the Marcoses’ knew “the power of media and used it to the hilt.”
But even as he helmed one popular TV show after another, Direk Rollie’s contributions to the entertainment industry did not end there.
In his own small and quiet way, he fought for reforms for the broadcast—things that were not easy to achieve under Martial Law.
“He is a straight arrow: piercing and penetrating, and a front line advocate of Philippine media for Filipinos. He relentlessly championed the welfare of artists and crew and their right to unionize. He nagged the media council endlessly until stations nationwide aired original materials done by Filipinos on scheduled frequency,” wrote advertising executive Dr. Peter Teodoro of Grande’s achievements.
Eventually, Direk Rollie got frustrated with the direction of media in the Philippines and by 1989, he left the country for good and found his new niche in the different media markets of Asia, US and Europe.
“My exposure to these markets gave me a broader perspective and knowledge of the power and purpose of international media,” he declared.
Still, he managed to come back to the country briefly and, for a time, resumed his Mister Bluejeans persona at DZRJ with his old friend, Ramon Jacinto.
“I went to Hawaii to visit Ramon who was my compadre while he was still in exile and planned the whole thing, including Bistro RJ, my being the General Manager of DZRJ and the revival of ‘The RJ and The Riots Show,’ as I served as Marketing Manager for the Jacinto Group of Companies.”
Since leaving the country after that stint, Rollie Grande the once famed director is now simply Mister Bluejeans who now produces Bluejeans Bandstand Classic from his own home setup in West Palm Beach and regularly uploads his “special broadcasts” in his personal Facebook page.
“The idea is to create a venue through which those of us who lived it could reconnect through the music. I have been privileged to reconnect with many old friends and acquaintances, but also to connect with so many radio listeners from that time that I didn’t even know.”