Lewis with her puppets, Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse, 1960
Phyllis Naomi Hurwitz or Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz (varying sources)|
17 January 1933
The Bronx, New York, United States
2 August 1998 65) (aged|
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Cause of death||Uterine cancer and viral pneumonia|
|Occupation||Ventriloquist, puppeteer, author, children's television show host|
Phyllis Naomi Hurwitz (January 17, 1933 – August 2, 1998), better known as Shari Lewis, was an American ventriloquist, puppeteer, children's entertainer and television show host. She was best known as the original puppeteer of the 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 Phyllis Naomi Hurwitz (some sources cite Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz) to Jewish parents, 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 the age of 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 to study the 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 in which 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 ventriloquist's dummies, 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, which 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, which 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.
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 in a number of British shows, such as the Val Doonican Show and the Royal Variety Performance. In 1975, Lewis briefly hosted another, syndicated puppet show called The Shari Show. In 1992, her show Lamb Chop's Play-Along began a five-year run on PBS, created as an audience participation "anti-couch potato" show.
When Lamb Chop's Play-Along ended, Lewis and her husband Jeremy Tarcher created The Charlie Horse Music Pizza A third of elementary schools were cutting music classes from their curriculum at the time, and Lewis and Tarcher felt that they could introduce children to music through the show.
The video Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah was released in 1996 and received the Parents' Choice award of the year. Lewis and Lamb Chop both appeared in a commercial for PrimeStar in 1997.
Lewis's other work included providing the voice of the Princess in the cartoon segment "Arabian Knights", part of the 1968 series The Banana Splits Adventure Hour. With her husband, Jeremy Tarcher, she cowrote an episode for the original series of Star Trek, "The Lights of Zetar" (1969). Lewis wrote over 60 books for children.
Lewis kept her surname from her first, relatively brief marriage, to Stan Lewis. Her second husband was publisher Jeremy Tarcher, a brother of novelist Judith Krantz. Lewis met Tarcher on the set of a radio show; they married a year later. Their daughter, Mallory Tarcher, was born on June 19, 1963.
Mallory Tarcher wrote for the shows Lamb Chop's Play-Along and The Charlie Horse Music Pizza. She legally changed her last name to Lewis and resumed her mother's work with Lamb Chop in 2000. On September 20, 2015, 17 years after her death, Lewis’ husband Jeremy Tarcher died from Parkinson's disease; he was 83. Prior to her death Shari Lewis sold the rights to Lamb Chop to DreamWorks. Her daughter Mallory still owns the live performing rights to the Lamb Chop character.
Health and death
Lewis was treated for breast cancer in 1984. In June 1998 she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She had a hysterectomy, but her doctors informed her that the cancer was inoperable and she was given six weeks to live. After recovering from the hysterectomy, she began chemotherapy at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. While undergoing chemotherapy, she developed viral pneumonia and died on August 2, 1998, at the age of 65. Her body was cremated. She was survived by her husband, daughter, and sister.
After her diagnosis, Lewis insisted on taping a final episode of The Charlie Horse Music Pizza. Following her death The Charlie Horse Music Pizza show was canceled, with the last episode airing on January 17, 1999.
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.
- You Can Do It!—1984
- Have I Got A Story For You—1984
- Kooky Classics—1984
- Shari's Christmas Concert—1981
- 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, broadcast 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 season 3 episode of the NBC spy-adventure series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Lewis guest-starred as a perky, somewhat ditzy understudy. Originally broadcast November 18, 1966.
- Lewis and Lamb Chop guest-starred on Episode 2.20, "Lamb Chop's on the Menu", of the sitcom The Nanny broadcast on CBS, February 13, 1995.
- Lewis and Lamb Chop guest-starred on the 27th-season finale episode (Episode 3525) of Sesame Street, broadcast on May 17, 1996.
- Lewis and Lamb Chop guest-starred on Episode 3.14, "Little Bo Peep", of the sitcom Cybill broadcast on CBS, January 20, 1997.
- Fun in Shariland originally released in 1958 on RCA Victor LBY-1006 and reissued on RCA Camden CAL-1006 in 1960
- Shari in Storyland originally released in 1962 on RCA Victor LPM/LSP-2463
- Jack and the Beanstalk and Other Stories originally released in 1964 on RCA Camden CAL/CAS-1052
- Give Your Child a Headstart originally released in 1968 on RCA Camden CAS-1096
- 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.
- "Shari Lewis (1933–1998)". Lambchop.tv. Archived from the original on 25 August 2011. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
- "Birth name Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz". Ancestry.com. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
- "Abraham Hurwitz Dead at 76; New York's Official Magician". The New York Times. October 1, 1981. p. 12. Retrieved February 14, 2011.
- "Shari Lewis". Grandtimes.com. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
- "Shari Lewis". IMDb. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
- Still a Handsome Couple: Shari Lewis and Sidekick Lamb Chop Teach Kids to 'Play-Along', latimes.com, July 27, 1993.
- Playing Along With Shari: Puppeteer Lewis is Back with a PBS series for kids and their parents, latimes.com; accessed February 4, 2018.
- SIGNOFF; Shari Lewis's Jazzy New Pals
- Shari Lewis, Television Puppeteer, Dies at 65. Washington Post. August 4, 1998. Retrieved May 6, 2018.
- LEWIS THROWS VOICE TO PUSH FOR QUALITY TV
- "Sheri Lewis". Angelawards.com. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
- This Day in Jewish History 1998: A Ventriloquist Whose Sock Addressed Congress Dies
- At 40, Lamb Chop Still Plays Along Successfully
- Lamb Chop, the Next Generation, latimes.com, June 4, 2000.
- Jeremy Tarcher dies at 83; maverick publisher of New Age bestsellers
- Jeremy P. Tarcher, Publisher of Nonfiction Best Sellers Dies At 83
- Shari Lewis' daughter keeps Lamb Chop alive, in Mesa 1/5
- "'Lamb Chop' Creator Shari Lewis Struggled with Marriage and Motherhood", countryliving.com; accessed February 4, 2018.
- Shari Lewis' Farewell / Ch. 13 to broadcast late puppeteer's last
- The Voice of Lamb Chop, cancertodaymag.org; accessed February 4, 2018.
- Puppeteer Shari Lewis, 65, Creator, Voice Of Lamb Chop, chicagotribune.com, August 4, 1998; accessed February 4, 2018.
- Shari Lewis, TV Puppeteer Loved by Children, Dies at 65, nytimes.com, August 4, 1998; accessed February 4, 2018.
- Puppeteer Shari Lewis Dies, cbsnews.com; accessed February 4, 2018
- Sheep Shape, people.com; accessed February 4, 2018.
- Entertainer Shari Lewis Dies at 65
- Wulf, Steve (2015-03-23). "Supersisters: Original Roster". Espn.go.com. Retrieved 2015-06-04.
- "Past Recipients-Lucy Award". Women in Film. Archived from the original on 2011-08-20. Retrieved 2011-06-08.
- "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show". Ctva.biz. Retrieved November 25, 2010.