Nestled in with the Sesame Street monsters and the residents of the land of make-believe, Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop reside in the hearts of children (and grown-ups) from all over. The beloved ventriloquist and entertainer has been singing and joking her way through television from as far back as 1957. Now, the story of Lewis will be shared in a brand-new book, “Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop,” that is co-written by her daughter, Mallory Lewis, and Nat Segaloff.
According to The Malibu Times, the book will be part biography and a celebration of Lewis’ numerous achievements throughout television history. Lewis was trained for stardom by her parents, who were already established names in entertainment. Her father, Abraham “Doc” Hurwitz, was known as the official magician of New York City by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, while her mother headed the music department in the schools of the Bronx. Shari was already performing at age 13, growing comfortable in front of audiences quickly, before landing her first big break puppeteering on the Captain Kangaroo show. Shortly after, Lewis was starring in her own television specials and appearances.
Lewis’ first program was The Shari Lewis Show on NBC, debuting in 1960 and running until 1963. The show starred Lewis and her puppet companions, including Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and Hush Puppy. While Lamb Chop’s first official debut was on Captain Kangarooit was The Shari Lewis Show where the plucky sock lamb rose to stardom. While audiences fell in love with Lewis and her lamb, she was still performing in a system that was tilted against her. The 1950s and ’60s were not exactly friendly towards a woman entrepreneur, no matter how famous. Mallory spoke with The Malibu Times about some of the issues her mother faced.
“My mom was an entrepreneurial woman before women were entrepreneurs. So many of the same problems exist today that existed when my mom was first starting. When my parents met, my mom was making 10 times what my father was making, and he had to sign for her to have a credit card. Women can now get their own credit cards, but the burden of child care, the mental burden of running a home still falls to women. My mom fought very hard against that.”
Getting to Know the One and Only Shari Lewis
While the baby boomer generation knew Shari Lewis for The Shari Lewis Show and Captain Kangaroomillennials probably recognize her best as the woman behind Lamb Chop’s Play Along. The musical-filled series aired on PBS from 1992 until 1995 and focused more on the philosophy of “Don’t just sit there, come play with me!” The show would feature fast editing, quick humor, and sing-alongs. Parents of the time are likely to look back on the show with either joy or fits of rage at one of the show’s most infamous ditties, “The Song That Doesn’t End,” which plays at the end of every episode.
Despite her decades in television, Shari was a very private person. According to Mallory, her mother was “very dedicated to her work, but was also a businesswoman, a mother, a wife, adventurer, and political activist. People have a lot of misconceptions of who Shari Lewis was.”
Shari Lewis passed away in 1998, succumbing to a viral pneumonia while undergoing chemotherapy; she was 65. Despite her passing, Shari has been a formative figure in the lives of many children and grown-ups. Mallory still gets fan mail on behalf of her mother.
“My mother was very special to people. The stories are, ‘I had a difficult childhood and your mother was my one safe place.’ Or, ‘The whole family sat down and watched your mom on TV. It was one of the happy times every week when she came on.’ Or, ‘I had a crush on your mom.’ Good children’s performers remind us of when we felt safe and when the world was a simpler place.”
After her mother’s death, Mallory picked up the little lamb and has been performing her ever since. The duo are still traveling the world performing and can be found on TikTok (@yourfavlambchop). Mallory spoke on the importance of keeping the spirit of her mother and (sock) sister alive.
“I couldn’t imagine a world where Lamb Chop was dead too. I loved being Lamb Chop’s sister. I wanted my son to have that joy and he did.”
There is also a documentary in development centered on Shari and Lamb Chop aimed for a spring release; the film is directed by Lisa D’Apolito. Meanwhile, Shari Lewis and Lamb Shop will be available wherever books are sold on October 18th.