American puppeteer and ventriloquist. The daughter of Abraham Hurwitz, the “Official Magician for the City of New York”, her well-connected father arranged for Shari Lewis to have lessons in magic and ventriloquism from notable contemporary performers. She studied ventriloquism with Monsieur Brunard (1901-1986), Stanley Burns (1919-1998), and John W. Cooper (1873-1966).
Shari Lewis’s trademark characters were small knitted animal puppets that fit the diminutive petite stature of the performer. She imbued them with warm and winning personalities combined with her flawless technique as a ventriloquist. She appropriately named them Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy in 1955.
A 1955 appearance on the national hit programme Captain Kangaroo launched her career. Her unique blend of the decidedly non-wooden hand (glove) puppets combined with her natural warmth as an entertainer lead to the production of numerous Emmy and Peabody-winning television series. A typical episode of the Shari Lewis Show (1960) featured educational stories with sufficient morals put forth in short skits and as many as eight songs per episode. Music was an important ingredient in Shari Lewis’s recipe for success. In addition, Lamb Chop and Shari entertained BBC audiences from 1968 to 1976 each Sunday night, while filming specials for Australian and Canadian television audiences.
A whole new generation of American youngsters got to know Shari Lewis and her friends when she presented her later works: Lamb Chop’s Play-Along (1992-1998) and Charlie Horse Music Pizza (1998) as acclaimed television series over the Public Broadcasting System.
Shari Lewis was a featured performer at the UNIMA 13th World Puppetry Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in 1980. She published more than fifty books, mostly aimed at a children’s audience. She was a pioneer in home video production for children and had a television studio built into her home in Beverly Hills, California. Her twelfth Emmy Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences was presented posthumously and was accepted by Shari’s daughter, Mallory Tarcher, who continues to perform Lamb Chop to yet another generation of audiences throughout the United States.
Shari Lewis is regarded as the “First Lady of American Ventriloquism”. In her illustrious career from the early days of American television in the 1950s until the late 1990s, Shari Lewis and her puppets became a force to be reckoned with in the male dominated entertainment business. She was widely respected for her multi talents, strong drive, and her sincere dedication to children, which were largely her target audience. Her signature character, Lamb Chop, a loveable and inquisitive squeaky voiced six-year-old, remains a pop culture icon for several generations of North Americans.
(See also United States of America, Ventriloquism.)
- Lewis, Shari, and Lillian Oppenheimer. Folding Paper Puppets. New York: Stein and Day, 1962; rpt. London: Muller, 1964.
- Stockman, Todd. Who Said That? The Art of the Contemporary American Ventriloquist. Atlanta (GA): Center for Puppetry Arts, 1998.