Entertainment

Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop's 40-Plus Years as Innovative Storytellers

Entertainer Shari Lewisís poses with Lamb Chop outside her house, March 29, 1996 in Beverly Hills, California. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Shari Lewis, a ventriloquist and TV's best puppeteer this side of Jim Henson, entertained and educated children for decades with the characters Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy and Charlie Horse.

Born Phyllis Naomi Hurwitz on Jan. 17, 1933, the Bronx, New York native first gained attention for her puppetry skills in 1952 as a first-prize winner of CBS' Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, the same series that broke Patsy Cline's singing career. Lewis learned ventriloquism from African-American singer John W. Cooper, and her father Abraham Hurwitz was an entertainer in his own right.

In 1956, Lewis appeared on Captain Kangaroo to debut her most iconic character, Lamb Chop. Her other barnyard friends debuted on local New York City series Shari & Her Friends (later called Shariland) and Hi Mom.

Lamb Chop went mainstream in 1960 when NBC replaced legendary television program The Howdy Doody Show with The Shari Lewis Show.

After decades of network television appearances, including a coveted spot on BBC's annual Royal Variety Performance and such short-lived ventures as syndicated series The Shari Show, Lewis' puppet menagerie made the move to PBS for the 1992 debut of Lamb Chop's Play-Along. The show's five-year run introduced '80s babies to a sock puppet that's now better known as a dog toy. Parents and grandparents of today's 30-somethings may recall perhaps the most intentionally grating closing theme from any television show, "The Song That Doesn't End."

A second PBS series titled The Charlie Horse Music Pizza ran from Jan. 1998 to Jan. 1999. In that short span, Lewis died on Aug. 2, 1998 at age 65 following a bout with uterine cancer.

Both PBS series were designed to instill a love of music in children at a time when music programs were being cut by public school systems.

"The elimination of music through the school system cheats our children out of something that is as important as reading, writing and arithmetic," Lewis told the Associated Press in 1996.

During their years on PBS, Lewis and Lamb Chop guest-starred on a 1997 episode of Sesame Street.

Beyond her work with Lamb Chop, Lewis and her second husband Jeremy Tarcher, a publisher and the brother of novelist Judith Krantz, co-wrote an episode of the original Star Trek television series titled "The Lights of Zetar." Lewis also appeared, sans puppets, on such TV shows as Love, American Style.

In all, Lewis won 12 Emmy awards, a Peabody award (1960), seven Parents' Choice Awards, a Kennedy Center award for Excellence and Creativity (1983) and The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Silver Circle Award (1996).

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A classically-trained musician and composer, Lewis appears on several children's albums with her puppet pals.

Lewis and Tarcher's daughter Mallory carries on the legacies of Lamb Chop and Hush Puppy in live performances.

In all, Lewis and Lamb Chop spent over 40 years as two of children's television's most innovative storytellers.

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Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop's 40-Plus Years as Innovative Storytellers