NEW YORK — Lucy Jarvis, a groundbreaking producer in television and theater who was especially known for gaining access to hard-to-crack locations, including the Soviet Union and China at the height of the Cold War, died on Jan. 26 in Manhattan. She was 102.
Scott McArthur, her longtime producing partner, announced the death.
In the late 1950s and early ’60s, when television’s top producing ranks included few if any other women, Ms. Jarvis helped bring about some remarkable programming, including gaining access to the Kremlin for a 1963 television special about that Moscow complex. In 1964, she took television viewers on an extensive tour of the Louvre in France, a documentary that won multiple Emmy Awards. In the early 1970s, she got permission to film in China, bringing American viewers an inside look at ancient sites there at a time when that country was still largely sealed off.
Her work in theater was just as internationally adventurous. In 1988, she collaborated with Soviet producers to bring a production of “Sophisticated Ladies,” the Duke Ellington musical revue, to Moscow. In 1990 she brought the first Soviet rock opera ever seen in the United States, “Junon and Avos: The Hope,” to City Center in New York.
In a 1999 interview with The Daily News, she explained her longstanding interest in introducing one culture to another.
“If I can bring about an understanding of people whom we consider our enemy and know very little about,” she said, “I can justify the space I occupy on this very crowded planet.”
Lucile Howard was born on June 23, 1917, in Manhattan. Her father, Herman, was an engineer and a hotelier, and her mother, Sophie (Kirsch) Howard, designed clothing patterns for the Singer sewing machine company.
Ms. Jarvis credited her mother with instilling in her the poise and confidence that would later allow her to go head-to-head with formidable world leaders. Her mother, she said, made her study elocution, piano, and dance and schooled her in how to enter a room with poise and greet people with confidence.
“She said, ‘I am giving you the tools so that you can walk into a room anywhere in the world and feel perfectly at ease,’” Ms. Jarvis said in an oral history recorded for the Television Foundation and New York Women in Film and Television in 2006. “She made me believe that there was nothing I couldn’t do if I wanted to. That was Self-Esteem 101.”
In 1959, she joined NBC as an associate producer (she later became producer) of a Saturday night debate program, “The Nation’s Future.” It featured two people on opposite sides of an issue, with Edwin Newman as moderator. One of her jobs was making sure the studio audience was evenly balanced between supporters of each position.
One particularly contentious episode was on American policy toward Cuba, where Fidel Castro had taken power in 1959, leading to increasingly hostile relations and an embargo.
“We had fistfights in the hallway,” Ms. Jarvis was quoted as saying in the 1997 book “Women Pioneers in Television,” by Cary O’Dell, “but the most difficult chore was finding enough pro-Castro people.”
One of her greatest coups came when she used persistence and well-placed connections, beginning in 1962, to get permission to film “The Kremlin,” an NBC special broadcast in May 1963 that gave American viewers an unprecedented view of that complex and its history.