Shari Lewis

Shari Lewis

Lewis with her puppets, Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse, 1960.
Born Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz
(1933-01-17)January 17, 1933
The Bronx, New York, United States
Died August 2, 1998(1998-08-02) (aged 65)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Cause of death Uterine Cancer & Viral Pneumonia[1]
Occupation Ventriloquist, puppeteer, author, children's television show host
Years active 1952–1998
Spouse(s) Stan Lewis
Jeremy Tarcher
Children Mallory Lewis

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.

Early life

Lewis was born as Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz[2] 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,[3] taught her to perform specialized magic acts by age 13. She also received instruction in acrobatics, juggling, ice skating, baton twirling, piano, and violin.[4] 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 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 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.[5]

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.[5]

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 produced 17 home videos.[6]

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.

Personal life

"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.[7] (She had previously been treated for breast cancer in 1984.[8]) While undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center,[9] 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:

Television shows


Episodic TV appearances



  1. "Shari Lewis (1933–1998)". Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  2. "Birth name Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz". Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  3. "Abraham Hurwitz Dead at 76; New York's Official Magician". The New York Times. 1 October 1981. p. 12. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  4. "Shari Lewis". Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  5. 1 2 "Shari Lewis". IMDb. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  6. "Sheri Lewis". Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  7. Gray, Tam Martinides; Dara Horn; Belinda Luscombe; Jodie Morse; Alain L. Sanders (1998-06-29). "Milestones Jun. 29, 1998". Time. Retrieved 2009-03-24.
  8. Wilson, Amy. "SHARI LEWIS, HANDS-ON IN ALL ASPECTS OF HER LIFE." San Jose Mercury News (CA) 12 Sep. 1995, Morning Final, Living: 6D. NewsBank. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.
  9. Williams, Scott (1998-08-04). "Puppeteer Made Kids Laugh—Lamb Chop Creator Shari Lewis Dies at 65". Daily News. Retrieved 2009-03-24.
  10. Wulf, Steve (2015-03-23). "Supersisters: Original Roster". Retrieved 2015-06-04.
  11. "Past Recipients-Lucy Award". Women in Film. Retrieved 2011-06-08.
  12. "The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show". Retrieved November 25, 2010.
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