Puppeteer and TV star Shari Lewis dies
Born in New York City on January 17, 1934, Shari Lewis was attracted to music and performance from a young age. She began taking piano lessons from her mother at age two, and first went on the stage at age thirteen. Her first act was as a magician, performing tricks with Jewish themes, such as multiplying one candle into eight to illustrate Chanukah. She later studied piano and violin at New York's High School of Music and Art, dance at the American School of Ballet, and acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse.
In 1952, Lewis appeared on the television show Talent Scouts, winning first prize with her hand puppet Lamb Chop. Four years later, she appeared with the puppet on Captain Kangaroo. Her extensive work in television included her own shows, Shari-Land and The Shari Show, in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By 1959, she had won four Emmy Awards—two as "most outstanding female personality" and two for "television's most outstanding children's show"—and had been described as "all eyes and mouth and charm and talent." These shows, along with her later programs, Lamb Chop's Play-Along (1989–1995) and The Charlie Horse Music Pizza (1998), were distinguished by their focus on encouraging children to interact with the program. Rather than simply presenting action, Lewis's shows provided opportunities for viewers to make crafts at home, sing along with the characters, and devise their own imaginative play.
In addition to producing her television shows, which eventually won a total of 12 Emmy Awards, Lewis wrote 60 books for children, including Magic for Nonmagicians, Things that Kids Collect, and Lamb Chop's Special Chanukah. A series of very short tales included the titles One-Minute Bedtime Stories, One-Minute Fairy Tales, and One-Minute Greek Myths. Lewis also produced numerous audio and video recordings for children.
Always concerned with the quality of children's television programming, Lewis testified in Congressional hearings on the Children's Television Act in 1993. At the hearings before the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, Lewis not only spoke herself, but also brought along the puppet Lamb Chop. The puppet gave an impassioned speech about the need for the government to regulate children's programming. Shari Lewis died of cancer on August 2, 1998.
Sources:Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 841-843; New York Times, February 2, 1958, October 25, 1959, October 9, 1960, January 29, 1961, August 4, 1998.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Puppeteer and TV star Shari Lewis dies." (Viewed on May 28, 2023) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/aug/02/1998/shari-lewis>.