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. She was best known as the original puppeteer of sock puppet Lamb Chop, first appearing on Hi Mom, a local morning Television show that aired on WRCA-TV (now WNBC-TV) in New York City.
Lewis was born as Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz 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, 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. 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.
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.
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.
In 1975, Lewis briefly hosted another puppet show that was syndicated, called The Shari Show.
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. She and Lamb Chop both appeared in the defunct PrimeStar satellite commercial in 1997.
When Lewis appeared before Congress in 1993 to testify in favor of protections for children's television, Lamb Chop was granted permission to speak.
An accomplished musician, she conducted major symphonies in the United States, Japan, and Canada. She wrote many books and 17 home videos.
In addition to her other work, Lewis provided the voice of the Princess, in a cartoon segment "Arabian Knights" (1967) of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. With her husband, Jeremy Tarcher, she co-wrote an episode for the original series of Star Trek, "The Lights of Zetar" (1969). Lewis wrote over 60 books for children.
"Shari" Hurwitz acquired the name Lewis by a brief marriage to her first husband, Stan Lewis. Her second husband, who survived her, was publisher Jeremy Tarcher, a brother of novelist Judith Krantz. By her second marriage to Jeremy Tarcher in 1958, she had one daughter, Mallory.
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.
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 body was cremated. She was survived by her husband, daughter and sister.
Awards and honors
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 1979, the Supersisters trading card set was produced and distributed; one of the cards featured Lewis's name and picture.
- 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.
- The Shari Lewis Show—(1960–1963)
- The Shari Lewis Show (BBC)—(1975)
- The Shari Show (syndicated)—(1975–1976)
- Lamb Chop's Play-Along—(1992–1997)
- Charlie Horse Music Pizza—(1998–1999)
- 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
- 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. She was seen on the November 20 and December 18, 1958 episodes.
- Lewis appeared on April 14, 1960, and again on January 12, 1961, on NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford.
- 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)
- 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 and Lamb Chop guest-starred on the 27th season finale episode (Episode 3525) of Sesame Street, which aired on May 17, 1996.
- Fun in Shariland originally released in 1958 on RCA Victor records, and re-released on RCA Camden Records in 1960
- Jack and the Beanstalk and Other Stories originally released in 1964 on RCA Camden Records CAL1052
- 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.