Sheri Lewis spent most of her life making children laugh. As the puppeteer behind the lovable character Lamb Chop, the show taught children how to be kind to themselves and others too. But beyond the Lamb Chop persona, Shari Lewis was a multi-talented star who lived an inspiring life. Read on to learn little-known facts about Shari Lewis and where the ever-so-lovable Lamb Chop is today.
Shari Was Almost A Ballet Dancer
It seems that Shari was made for the entertainment business from the beginning of her life. Despite becoming one of the world’s most recognizable children’s comedians in the late 20th century, she actually prepared to be a dancer growing up.
As a child, she went to choreography classes after school and as a teenager, she studied dance at the American School of Ballet. Although she had the dedication, she could not cut it as a dancer as she did not make it on the chorus line. Instead, Lewis regrouped and took up puppetry. But dancing, puppets, and comedy aren’t the only things Lewis is known for in the show business…
Shari Acted Occasionally Too
When Shari Lewis was in between television shows, she took a few guest spots on other shows. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, Lewis starred in TV programs like Car 54, Where Are You?, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and Love, American Style.
While she was always busy acting in something, Lewis never forgot about Lamb Chop. The duo would often perform on tours between acting gigs to sharpen their act. This definitely came in handy decades later when they were finally cast to star in their own show again — a show that would become one of the most award-winning kid’s series ever.
Her Parents Were In Show Business
Shari Lewis comes from an impressive pedigree of professional entertainers. While her mother had a much more traditional background, her father, Abraham Hurwitz, was quite the opposite. During the Great Depression, he was named New York City’s “official magician” by the mayor at the time.
Both of Shari’s parents encouraged her to perform. At a very young age, Shari took classes in acrobatics, juggling, ice skating, baton twirling, piano, violin, magic, and ventriloquism. In addition to ballet, Shari even studied acting for a year at Barnard College. However, she dropped out to pursue her dreams of being a famed entertainer.
Shari Was A One-Time Trekkie Writer
No one can say Shari Lewis was not a busy woman during her time in show business. In addition to guest-starring on several TV shows and performing with Lamb Chop, Lewis briefly took up television writing.
Partnering with writer Jeremy Tarcher, Shari wrote an episode of the original Star Trek. Entitled “The Lights of Zetar,” the episode premiered in season three. It followed Scotty as he falls in love with a gorgeous lieutenant, only to find that her mind and body have been taken over by an evil alien race. The bleak premise of this episode was in direct contrast with Shari’s typically kid-friendly act, but it showed that her talent wasn’t limited to children — she had range.
…And An Orchestra Conductor
While Shari primarily pursued puppetry over all of her prior studies as a child, she did not forget her love for music. She wrote many books on the subject, produced 17 home videos that featured complicated musical performances, and conducted for major symphonies across the globe. She even orchestrated for groups in the United States, Canada, and Japan.
Sheri’s talents led her to many places worldwide, which is incredible in and of itself. However, it is even more impressive considering Shari had a young daughter at the time. While the hectic schedule of performances and orchestral conducting was challenging, Shari’s daughter dealt with the stress surprisingly well.
Politics Erased Her Show
Of the people who remember watching The Shari Lewis Show, all of them can attest to how clean and educational Lamb Chop and Lewis’ brand of comedy were. This did not stop politics from getting its dirty fingers on the program, however — but not in the way you would think.
After being canceled due to poor ratings after a three-year run, The Shari Lewis Show suffered an even worse fate in 1964. The network decided to use tapes from the show to record the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. As a result, there are no recordings of the show in existence. This wouldn’t be the last time Lamb Chop would deal with politics. In fact, the brave little puppet actually took her complaints directly to Congress.
Lamb Chop’s Kangaroo Debut
When it came to children’s entertainment, Lamb Chop and Shari Lewis were the complete package. Their act spawned many world tours and television shows, but did you know that the comedy duo made their televised debut on the iconic Captain Kangaroo?
In March of 1956, six-year-old Lamb Chop introduced herself to the world and never looked back. Her repeat appearances were so well received that Shari Lewis actually got her own show on the network in 1960 called The Shari Lewis Show. The show featured Lamb Chop prominently, but ended up being erased from the channels of history for “political reasons”.
Shari Won 6 Emmys
Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop finally made their long-awaited return to the small screen with the PBS show Lamb Chop’s Play-Along. The show was a critical darling, racking up an impressive six Emmy awards despite being on air for only five short years.
The first episode debuted in 1991 — a full three decades since Shari and Lamb Chop’s last starring roles. But the duo was not rusty in the slightest, giving the viewers entertaining content every Saturday morning. The show was so successful that, along with its Emmys, received the Parents’ Choice award in 1996.
Shari Joked About Eating Lamb
When Shari Lewis made it big in the industry, she was known for her ventriloquism with Lamb Chop. The heavy Brooklyn accent and the comically-spontaneous thoughts the sheep would say were the show’s bread and butter and Shari’s claim to fame. So, with everyone knowing her as the kind woman with the adorable lamb, she liked to have fun with things.
According to an interview with the Wilmington Star, Lewis liked to horrify the wait staff at every place she went. Regardless of what was on the menu, she would ask for a big rack of lamb “at every opportunity.” She’d always hope they knew it was a joke.
A Critical Darling With Poor Ratings
Lamb Chop’s latest (and likely last) television show, Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, was a critical darling. Everyone who speaks about it says it was a wonderful piece of children’s TV. However, the character’s popularity began to wear thin in the later years of the show.
Despite winning six Emmys and being nominated in multiple categories for every year it was on, the show began to sink in ratings by the late ’90s. PBS canceled the show in 1995, but reruns played until 1997. Surprisingly, Shari actually won an Emmy for Lamb Chop’s Play-Along in the category “Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series” in 1996 — one year after the show went off the air.
Lamb Chop’s Shows Spanned Four Decades
Lamb Chop’s age is deceiving. Despite being only six years old, the sheep was actually an act in Shari’s arsenal for over 40 years. Beginning in 1956, Lamb Chop’s act has been entertaining kids worldwide for decades on end.
Whether it be on Captain Kangaroo, The Shari Lewis Show, Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, or in one of her many live performances, Lamb Chop has proven herself to be an act that can withstand the test of time. In fact, Lamb Chop’s act is so influential that it is going on to this day — despite the untimely passing of Shari Lewis.
Lamb Chop Spoke To Congress
To say Shari Lewis was a strong advocate for improving children’s education would be an understatement. Both of her television shows were built upon the idea that children’s TV was an important tool in teaching children life lessons. In 1993, Lewis, along with Lamb Chop, had a chance to testify about this very fact in front of the United States Congress.
They both had equal time to say their points: three minutes for Lewis, three minutes for Lamb Chop. They urged politicians to protect children from bad television content by encouraging the production of good, quality kid’s TV.
Shari’s Daughter, Mallory
Mallory Lewis has had an interesting and exciting childhood, to say the least. Being the daughter of a traveling artist meant Mallory spent most of her youth on the move. While this would be difficult for some children, Mallory insists that her upbringing was “great.”
“I got to travel all over the world,” Mallory said about growing up. “I got to go to the White House. I knew it was fun. The key is really the opportunities Lamb Chop brings. She’s just fun to be related to.” Mallory has quite an interesting relationship with Lamb Chop, especially considering that…
Mallory Wrote For Lamb Chop With Her Mother
Mallory was not a mere tag-along to her mother’s act: she was a leading force behind it. Even as a child, Mallory would often talk to her mother about things Lamb Chop would say or what the sheep puppet would talk about. By Shari’s logic, the best way to write for a six-year-old puppet was to write with an actual six-year-old.
Yet, despite being accredited with “writing” for Lamb Chop, Mallory says the process was much more of a conversation with her mother than anything. There was no script written down. Instead, much of what Mallory did for Lamb Chop was described as “character building.”
Shari Passed Away
On August 2, 1998, the world lost one of its greatest entertainers. Two months prior, Shari Lewis was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Doctors told Shari that the disease would be fatal, but the puppeteering dynamo refused to believe it. She had fought and overcome breast cancer in 1984, after all.
Cancer was not what actually killed her. When undergoing treatments at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, one of the leading hospitals in cancer treatment at the time, Lewis developed a bad case of viral pneumonia. This led to her untimely death in August. She was only 65 years old and survived by her husband, sister, and daughter.
Mallory Took Over Lamb Chop
After her mother passed away, Mallory Lewis had a decision to make: should she keep pursuing her degree in finance or give it all up to follow in Shari’s footsteps? To the joy of Lamb Chop fans everywhere, Mallory decided her mother’s act must live on.
“It made me very feel happy because it was like a part of my mom was still alive,” Mallory said. “It did bring up a lot of emotions, but not in a bad way.” While Mallory speaks differently from her mother, her Lamb Chop voice is uncanny. It sounds like a sweet memory returning.
Lamb Chop’s Sister
To say Mallory Lewis’ relationship with Lamb Chop is strange would be an understatement. Because her mother spent so much time with both Mallory and Lamb Chop, Mallory now calls the puppet her “sister.”
“It sounds ridiculous, but when you have a sibling, you simply know them,” Mallory said about Lamb Chop. “That’s the way I know Lamb Chop. You know what your sister would say in certain situations, and your mom didn’t have to leave you notes about how to handle your sister. “I lived with [the puppet] my whole life. To me, I don’t ‘do’ Lamb Chop. She simply speaks through me. I don’t have to think about it.”
DreamWorks Owns Lamb Chop
While Lamb Chop is still kicking it on tours across the United States, do not expect her to return to Saturday morning television anytime soon. Although Lamb Chop’s new ventriloquist would be more than happy for the character to grace the small screen again, it does not seem to be in the cards.
According to Mallory, Lamb Chop is not actually owned by the Lewis family. Instead, she’s “intellectual property” of DreamWorks due to a deal her mother made. Mallory has live-performance rights, but anything involving televised or filmed media is owned by DreamWorks. “It’s nothing I have any control over, which is the best answer I can give,” Mallory said.
Lamb Chop Vs. Trump
Lamb Chop is far from a controversial figure. Yet, somehow, the sheep managed to find herself in the midst of political drama shortly after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. In a late-night tweet, Lamb Chop wrote the following: “I know a Russian puppet when I see one!” followed by the hashtag “#notmypresident.”
When questioned about her “sister’s” actions, Mallory Lewis was frank and upfront. “It’s important that artists speak out against Donald Trump and the Republican Party,” she said, “and Lamb Chop is nothing if not an artist. There comes a time when even if there is political backlash, you must stand for what is right.”
Once A Show, Now A Meme
Lamb Chop’s late-night dig at the President was a hit on social media, gaining hundreds of retweets and favorites in the short span of a few hours. Mallory decided that, since the response to Lamb Chop was so strong and, for the most part, positive, she would make a meme with the character once a week. On Trump’s Inauguration Day, Lamb Chop was photographed crying.
“Lamb Chop has always been a liberal,” Mallory explained. “Her theory is, first they came for the blacks, then they came for the Jews…and Lamb Chop, you should know, is Jewish…and if nobody stands up, one day they’ll come for the puppets.”