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Sidney Poitier dies: Tucson movie enhanced his reputation

Tucson actor remembers working with the star
Posted at 7:40 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 21:40:00-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — There’s a Tucson connection to a revered actor who died Thursday night.

Sidney Poitier died at age 94. A film Poitier made in Tucson made him the first African American to win an Oscar. KGUN 9 On Your Side spoke with a Tucson actor who shared the screen with Poitier.

Sidney Poitier lived a life filled with honors, for his work on stage and screen, and for his dedications to civil rights.

One of his earlier honors was a Best Actor Oscar for Lilies of the Field. He plays a man passing through Arizona. A group of nuns charm him into building them a chapel.

Ornate doors from the movie chapel stand in Sasabe today, but the movie was shot in Tucson.

Francesca Jarvis, an actress who played one of those nuns, remembers how charming Poitier could be.

“He was very generous. A charming, delightful man. And we were under enormous pressure because that movie was filmed in 10 days. 1, 2, 3 takes and I'd never made a movie before. And so, it was on the job training. I didn't know how to hit a mark. And Sydney was so supportive. He really knew how difficult this was going to be for me”.

Francesca Jarvis says she was able to get that first movie job because the producers wanted Poitier to be the only well known actor in the film. That way the audience would focus on his performance.

She had done stage work but the success of Lilies of the Field launched her film and TV career.

“I was able to go on to make 25 films, movies of the week, I did Gunsmokes and Little House on the Prairie. The second film I did was Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean with Paul Newman, where I played a prostitute. I went from a nun to a prostitute and I figured everything else was fair game in the middle.”

And even at age 89 she’s ready to belt out the signature song from Lilies of the Field.

“A…! A…! A…! Amen! Amen!”