Shari Lewis

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Shari Lewis
Shari lewis 1960.JPG
Lewis with her puppets, Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse, 1960.
Born Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz
(1933-01-17)January 17, 1933
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
Died August 2, 1998(1998-08-02) (aged 65)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Cause of death
Viral pneumonia[1]
Occupation Ventriloquist, puppeteer, author, children's television show host
Years active 1952–1998
Spouse(s) Stan Lewis
Jeremy Tarcher
Children Mallory Lewis

Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz (January 17, 1933 – August 2, 1998) better known as Shari Lewis was an American ventriloquist, puppeteer, and children's entertainer and television show host, most popular during the 1960s and 1990s. She was best known as the original puppeteer of sock puppet Lamb Chop, first appearing on Hi Mom, a local morning show that aired on WRCA-TV (now WNBC-TV) in New York City.

Early life[edit]

Lewis was born as Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz[2] to Ann Ritz and Abraham Hurwitz, an education professor at Yeshiva University. 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,[3] taught her to perform specialized magic acts by age 13. She also received instruction in acrobatics, juggling, ice skating, baton twirling, piano, and violin.[4] She was taught ventriloquism by John W. Cooper. She 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, but left after one year 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 through 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 a succeeding series on WRCA-TV, Hi Mom (1957–1959), which introduced Charlie Horse, Hush Puppy, and Wing Ding. Lamb Chop, who also appeared, had been previously introduced during Lewis' guest appearance on Captain Kangaroo in March 1956.[citation needed]

NBC gave Lewis her first network program, The Shari Lewis Show, which debuted 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 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.[5]

Lewis was the voice of the Princess, in Hanna and Barbara's animated cartoon series "Arabian Knights" (1967)

In 1968, she and her then-husband, Jeremy Tarcher, co-wrote the episode "The Lights of Zetar" for the original series of Star Trek.

From the late 1960s until the early 1980s she appeared on a number of British shows such as the Val Doonican Show and the Royal Variety Performance.[5]

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.

She and Lamb Chop both appeared in the defunct PrimeStar satellite commercial in 1997.

An accomplished musician, she conducted major symphonies in the United States, Japan, and Canada. She wrote many books and 17 home videos. [6]

Personal life[edit]

"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 a strict vegan.


Shari Lewis was diagnosed with uterine cancer in June 1998.[7] (She had previously been treated for breast cancer during the mid-1980s.[8]) While undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,[9] 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.[10]

Besides 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", 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 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.

Television shows[edit]


  • 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 in the Haunted Studio—1994
  • Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah—1995
  • Shari's Passover Surprise—1996

Episodic TV appearances[edit]

  • 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).
  • 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 sang "Jingle Bells" on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (Season 15, Episode 15, Aired Dec 24, 1961)


Cultural references[edit]

  • 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 it's 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. He severs Shari's hand holding Lamb Chop and tosses the puppet onto a burning grill. Shari and Lamb Chop cry out as Mr. Garrison is seen back in his chair smiling.
  • 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.


  1. ^ "Shari Lewis (1934–1998)". Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Birth name Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz as per as per
  3. ^ "Abraham Hurwitz Dead at 76; New York's Official Magician". The New York Times. 1 October 1981. p. 12. Retrieved 14 February 2011. 
  4. ^ Albin, Kira. "Shari Lewis in the Lamb Light", Grand Times, 1997.
  5. ^ a b Shari Lewis IMDB Page
  6. ^<html
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Williams, Scott (1998-08-04). "Puppeteer Made Kids Laugh—Lamb Chop Creator Shari Lewis Dies at 65". Daily News. Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  10. ^ "Past Recipients-Lucy Award". Women in Film. Retrieved 2011-06-08. 
  11. ^ "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show". Retrieved November 25, 2010. 

External links[edit]