Jarvis, Lucy (1919—)

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Jarvis, Lucy (1919—)

American television producer, known for her NBC documentaries during the 1950s and 1960s. Born Lucile Howard in New York City in 1919; only daughter and youngest of the two children of Herman Howard and Sophie (Kirsch) Howard; Cornell University, B.S.in home economics, 1938; Columbia University Teachers College, M.S., 1941; attended New School for Social Research, New York, 1942; married Serge Jarvis (a specialist in corporation and international law), on July 18, 1940; children: Barbara Ann Jarvis; Peter Leslie Jarvis.

Selected production credits for NBC:

"The Kremlin" (1963); "Museum Without Walls" (1963); "The Louvre" (1964); "Who Shall Live?" (1965); "Mary Martin: Hello Dolly! Around the World" (1965); "Dr. Barnard's Heart Transplant Operations" (1968); "Khrushchev in Exile: His Opinions and Revelations" (1967); "Bravo, Picasso!" (1967); "Cry Help!" (1970); "Trip to Nowhere" (1970); "Scotland Yard: The Golden Thread" (1971). Independent credits: "Family Reunion" (1981–82).

One of the first women to produce for primetime network television, Lucy Jarvis credits her mother with giving her the confidence to turn her dreams into reality. "She used to say, 'I want you and your brother to be able to walk into a room anywhere in the world and feel comfortable and be able to cope,' and that is exactly what she did." Jarvis' path into television was a meandering one, beginning at Cornell University where she studied home economics. After graduating in 1938, she worked for a year as a dietitian at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center before taking a job in special promotions for the Beech-Nut Company. In 1940, the same year she married, Jarvis joined the staff of McCall's magazine as a food editor. While there, she attended Columbia University's Teachers College, receiving her M.S. degree in 1941. Jarvis left her job in 1943, for the birth of her first child. She and her husband moved to Connecticut, and she became a stay-at-home mom until her two children, Peter and Barbara, were teenagers. Jarvis filled her free time with volunteer work, serving as an instructor for the American Red Cross and as national vice-president of the women's division of the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (1944–51).

Lucy Jarvis re-entered the job force in the early 1950s, working on various production staffs in radio and television. By 1955, she was assistant producer for David Susskind's Talent Associates, an enterprise that packaged special programs for television. She then worked for a year as a TV editor for Pathé News. In 1957, she joined Martha Rountree (creator of "Meet the Press") to help launch and coproduce "Capitol Close-up," a syndicated radio program which aired daily and featured important events and notable personalities in government. Their guests on the first three shows were Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and J. Edgar Hoover.

Jarvis began her association with the National Broadcasting Company in 1960, working in the creative projects unit. Over the next 16 years, she created and produced a series of innovative documentaries for NBC, including programs on the Kremlin (1963), the Louvre (1964), and the Ming Tombs of the Forbidden City (1973). She presented the first program on kidney dialysis in 1965 and took audiences behind the scene of Dr. Christiaan Barnard's pioneering heart transplant operations in 1968. "I became known as the whirlwind of Rockefeller Plaza," she later recounted, "because I was bringing television crews into places that never before permitted cameras."

It was not always easy for Jarvis to convince the executives at NBC to support her venturesome projects, but as her successes multiplied, the task took less effort. Her first documentary on the Kremlin was a decided coup: NBC had tried unsuccessfully for two years to get a film crew inside the tightly guarded Soviet Union. Jarvis, who prepared herself with a course in spoken Russian, spent five months in Russia, first negotiating through a bureaucratic labyrinth in order to obtain the necessary permission, and then serving as associate producer to George Vicas, in the actual shooting of the documentary, which was aired on May 21, 1963. The program won an Emmy Award in cinematography and the Golden Mike Award. "We were very careful to keep politics out of it," said Jarvis. "Instead, we put our emphasis on history, art, music, architecture and stories, even when we brought it up to modern times."

Continually motivated by her belief that television is a tool of enlightenment and change, Jarvis also produced several documentaries on medical and social welfare issues, the first of which, "Who Shall Live?," examined the medical, moral, and economic dilemmas posed by the use of the artificial kidney and in the selection of patients for dialysis treatment. Viewer response to the show, which aired in November 1965, brought a flood of angry letters to government officials expressing indignation over the nation's failure to provide funding for kidney patients. As a result, the federal government made $6 million available for dialysis centers across the country. A spokesperson for the National Dialysis Committee called Jarvis an inspiration: "Each new patient treated with the therapy of dialysis on the artificial kidney will owe some portion of his life to the camera and cutting shears of Lucy Jarvis." Jarvis also stimulated public interest in the problem of mental illness among young people with the documentary "Cry Help!" (1970), which was filmed at the state mental hospital in Napa, California. "It is a plea; it is an emergency cry," said Jarvis, "for society to help our children."

In 1963, Jarvis produced the first NBC-TV special using a communications satellite in "Museum Without Walls," which presented a simultaneous view of the Louvre in Paris and the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. The famous Paris museum was also the subject of a more in-depth project, "The Louvre: The Golden Prison" (1964). Television audiences were able to view the largest collection of the works of Picasso in the documentary "Bravo, Picasso" (1967), described in the Los Angeles Times (February 7, 1976), as an "artistic triumph for NBC staff." Other firsts included a look inside Scotland Yard, and a film version of the Peking Opera's "Red Detachment of Women," presented in 1972.

As the years went by, large-scale documentaries eventually gave way to magazine shows, and Jarvis' budgets began to get smaller. In 1976, she left NBC to produce independently. Jarvis produced two shows for her long-time friend Barbara Walters , who left NBC at the same time to work for ABC. The relationship did not work out, and Jarvis left to try her hand at producing movies and series, the first of which was "Family Reunion" (1981), a four-hour mini-series starring Bette Davis. The project, which Jarvis explained was "based on reality," grew from a study done by the Ladies' Home Journal on the growing interest in annual family reunions.

Jarvis received numerous awards throughout her career. In 1967, she was the first recipient of the Golden Mike Award, presented by the American Women in Radio and Television. In 1968, she was decorated by the French government for her programs on French history and culture. She was named among America's most prominent women in a poll by the Ladies' Home Journal in 1971 and that same year was included in the Harper's Bazaar list of One Hundred Women in Tune with the Times. In 1999, age 80, Lucy Jarvis was pressuring U.S. bureaucrats to allow her to take the Ballet Hispanico troupe to Cuba and film them "visiting the roots of their influence."


Brown, Les. Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1992.

Diamonstein, Barbaralee. Open Secrets. NY: Viking, 1970.

Gilbert, Lynn, and Gaylen Moore. Particular Passions. NY: Clarkson Potter, 1981.

Kissel, Howard. "They Love Lucy," in [New York] Daily News. July 25, 1999.

Moritz, Charles, ed. Current Biography 1972. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1972.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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