Lewis with her puppets, Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse, 1960.
|Born||Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz
January 17, 1933
Bronx, New York, U.S.
|Died||August 2, 1998
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Viral pneumonia|
|Occupation||Ventriloquist, puppeteer, author, children's television show host|
Shari Lewis (January 17, 1933 – August 2, 1998) was an American ventriloquist, puppeteer, and children's television show host, most popular during the 1960s and 1990s. She was best known as the original puppeteer of Lamb Chop, first appearing on Hi Mom, a local morning show that aired on WRCA-TV (now WNBC-TV) in New York City.
Lewis was born as Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz to Abraham Hurwitz, an education professor at Yeshiva University, and Ann Ritz. She had one sister. Her parents encouraged her to perform, and her father, who had been named New York City's "official magician" by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia during the Great Depression, taught her to perform specialized magic acts by age 13. She also received instruction in acrobatics, juggling, ice skating, baton twirling, piano and violin. She was taught ventriloquism by John W. Cooper. Lewis continued piano and violin at New York's High School of Music and Art, dance at the American School of Ballet, and acting with Sanford Meisner of the Neighborhood Playhouse. She attended Barnard College for one year, then left college to go into show business.
In 1952, Lewis and her puppetry won first prize on the CBS television series Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. Lewis then hosted several New York children's series over the balance of the decade. On July 5, 1953, Lewis made her television hosting debut on Facts N'Fun on NBC-owned WRCA-TV. The program was a variety show where she engaged her viewers and studio audiences in games, songs, stories, craftmaking, informational segments and interviews with guest performers and personalities. She also performed comedy skits with two vent figures, Samson and Taffy Twinkle. The series remained on the air until September 26, 1953.
She moved to WPIX in 1953 to replace Ted Steele as host of Kartoon Klub, which featured a variety format with a live studio audience. Lewis performed with Randy Rocket and Taffy Twinkle, and the program also featured reruns of Crusader Rabbit cartoons. Kartoon Klub later changed its title to Shari & Her Friends on September 23, 1956, and then to Shariland a month later. Lewis won New York-area Emmy Awards for her work on Shariland and on a succeeding series on WRCA-TV, Hi Mom (1957–1959). Hi Mom marked the first appearances of Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, Hush Puppy, and Wing Ding in a regular series. Lamb Chop was previously introduced during a guest appearance by Lewis on Captain Kangaroo in March 1956.
NBC gave Lewis her first network program – The Shari Lewis Show, which made its debut on October 1, 1960, replacing The Howdy Doody Show. The show ran until September 28, 1963, and featured such characters as Hush Puppy, Charlie Horse, Lamb Chop, and Wing Ding, a black crow. Lamb Chop, who was little more than a sock with eyes, served as a sassy alter-ego for Lewis. Hush Puppy had a Southern accent and a reserved shy personality, while Charlie Horse was a slow-witted goofy character. Guest TV and movie personalities and even occasional stars often appeared on her show, as they did later on Jim Henson's Muppets series.
Capturing kids' imaginations in the early 1960s, consumer versions of Lewis's initial three puppets sold briskly. Subsequent television programs re-introduced these characters (minus the black crow, whose characterization became more problematic after the 1960s) to a new generation of children.
In 1961, she played the title character, Dulie Hudson, in Watching Out for Dulie, a United States Steel Hour production. She occasionally guest-starred in TV shows such as Car 54, Where Are You?, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Love, American Style.
In 1992, her new Emmy-winning show Lamb Chop's Play-Along began a five-year run on PBS. Lewis starred in another hit PBS series, The Charlie Horse Music Pizza, which was one of her last projects before her death. The video Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah was released in 1996 and received the Parents' Choice award of the year.
When Lewis appeared before Congress in 1993 to testify in favor of protections for children's television, Lamb Chop was granted permission to speak. Lamb Chop's passionate, well-informed and vivid testimony made an indelible impression.
An accomplished musician, she conducted major symphonies in the United States, Japan and Canada. She wrote many books, and created seventeen home videos.
"Shari" Hurwitz acquired the name Lewis by a brief marriage. By her second marriage to Jeremy Tarcher in 1958, she had one daughter, Mallory.
Shari Lewis was diagnosed with uterine cancer in June 1998. (She had previously been treated for breast cancer during the mid-1980s.) While undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, she developed viral pneumonia and died on the night of August 2, 1998 at the age of 65. Her remains were cremated. She was survived by her husband, daughter and sister.
Lewis was the recipient of numerous awards during her lifetime, including:
- 12 Emmy Awards
- Peabody Award (1960)
- Monte Carlo Prize for the World's Best Television Variety Show (1963)
- John F. Kennedy Center Award for Excellence and Creativity (1983)
- 7 Parents' Choice Awards
- Action for Children's Television Award
- 1995 American Academy of Children's Entertainment award for Entertainer of the Year
- Dor L'Dor award of the B'nai B'rith (1996)
- 3 Houston Film Festival awards
- Silver Circle Award of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (1996)
- Film Advisory Board Award of Excellence (1996)
- 2 Charleston Film Festival Gold Awards (1995)
- Houston World Festival silver and bronze awards (1995)
- New York Film and Video Festival Silver Award (1995)
- In 1998, she was posthumously awarded the Women in Film Lucy Award in recognition of her excellence and innovation in her creative works that have enhanced the perception of women through the medium of television.
In addition to writing over 60 books for children, she and her second husband wrote an episode for the third and final season of the original Star Trek series entitled "The Lights of Zetar". This was produced in 1968. Lewis had hoped to play the part of "Lt. Mira Romaine," but the role was given to actress Jan Shutan.
Her first husband was Stan Lewis. Her second husband, who survived her, was publisher Jeremy Tarcher, a brother of the novelist Judith Krantz.
Lewis's daughter, Mallory Tarcher, wrote for the shows Lamb Chop's Play-Along and The Charlie Horse Music Pizza. She legally changed her name to Mallory Lewis, and in 2000, she resumed her mother's work with the Lamb Chop character.
- The Shari Lewis Show—1960
- The Shari Lewis Show (BBC)—1975
- The Shari Show (syndicated)—1975–1976
- Lamb Chop's Play-Along—1992–1997
- Charlie Horse Music Pizza—1998
- Have I Got A Story For You—1984
- Kooky Classics—1984
- You Can Do It—1984
- 101 Things For Kids To Do—1987
- Lamb Chop's Sing-Along, Play-Along—1988
- Don't Wake Your Mom!—1989
- Lamb Chop in the Land of No Manners—1989
- Lamb Chop in the Land of No Numbers—1993
- Lamb Chop and the Haunted Studio—1994
- Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah—1995
- Shari's Passover Surprise—1996
Episodic TV appearances
- Lewis was included on the long list of entertainers who appeared on ABC's The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, a variety series, which aired from 1957–1960.
- Lewis appeared on April 14, 1960, and again on January 12, 1961, on NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.
- Lewis guest-starred in two episodes of the NBC police sitcom Car 54, Where Are You?, as Melinda Walsh in "How High is Up?" (1962) and as Judy Sanford in "Puncher and Judy" (1963).
- In "The Off-Broadway Affair", a 1966 episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lewis guest starred as a perky, somewhat ditzy understudy.
- Lewis (and Lamb Chop) guest-starred on Episode 2.20, "Lamb Chop's on the Menu", of the sitcom The Nanny, which premiered on February 13, 1995.
- Lewis, Lamb Chop (dressed as Santa) and Charlie Horse sing "Jingle Bells" on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (Season 15, Episode 15, Aired Dec 24, 1961)
- Fun in Shariland originally released in 1958 on RCA Victor records, and re-released on RCA Camden Record in 1960
- Hi Kids! on Shout! Factory CD, originally released in 1952 on Golden Records
- Lamb Chop's Sing-Along, Play-Along released 1992 on A&M Records
- In the episode "Dummy for Love" on Season 2 of the sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Salem the cat has digitally inserted images of himself with various celebrities such as Mother Teresa to give to Zelda so she will put in a good word for him at the Witches Council, hoping for leniency. Later, Zelda finds a hidden photo of him and Shari Lewis, and Salem nervously mumbles, "That's from my personal collection." And at the end of the episode Salem tries to pay Cupid in anchovies to make Shari fall in love with him. Cupid declines stating that its against his principles and because Salem is a cat and she is Shari Lewis.
- In the episode "Summer Sucks" on Season 2 of "South Park", Mr. Garrison, angered over the theft of his hand-puppet Mr. Hat, turns on his television to a caricature of Shari with Lamb Chop. He then envisions himself entering the set and approaching them with an axe. Mr. Garrison severs Shari's hand holding Lamb Chop and tosses the puppet onto a burning grill. Shari cries out, as does Lamb Chop, with Mr. Garrison seen back in his chair with a wide smile on his face.
- In the Animaniacs episode "Papers For Papa" Ernest Hemingway watches Shari and Lamb Chop perform on TV and one of Lamb Chop's button eyes falls off.
- "Shari Lewis (1934–1998)". Lambchop.tv. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
- Birth name Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz as per as per Ancestry.com
- "Abraham Hurwitz Dead at 76; New York's Official Magician". The New York Times. 1 October 1981. p. 12. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
- Albin, Kira. "Shari Lewis in the Lamb Light", Grand Times, 1997.
- Shari Lewis IMDB Page
- Gray, Tam Martinides; Dara Horn, Belinda Luscombe, Jodie Morse and Alain L. Sanders (1998-06-29). "Milestones Jun. 29, 1998". Time. Retrieved 2009-03-24.
- Wilson, Amy. "SHARI LEWIS, HANDS-ON IN ALL ASPECTS OF HER LIFE." San Jose Mercury News (CA) 12 Sep. 1995, Morning Final, Living: 6D. NewsBank. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.
- Williams, Scott (1998-08-04). "Puppeteer Made Kids Laugh—Lamb Chop Creator Shari Lewis Dies at 65". Daily News. Retrieved 2009-03-24.
- "Past Recipients-Lucy Award". Women in Film. Retrieved 2011-06-08.
- "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show". ctva.biz. Retrieved November 25, 2010.
- Shari Lewis at Find a Grave
- Shari Lewis at the Internet Movie Database
- Shari Lewis at Memory Alpha (a Star Trek wiki)
- "Kitten Kaboodle's biography of Shari Lewis"