Unlike other kids’ show hosts who worked with puppets, Shari Lewis was a talented ventriloquist who manipulated and provided the voices for her puppets as she interacted with them on the air.
Though many of us were first introduced to Shari and her puppets on the nationally telecast Shari Lewis Show, which ran on NBC from 1960-1963, Shari Lewis had previously hosted two local kids’ shows in New York in the 1950’s, The Kartoon Club and Shari and Her Friends. On The Kartoon Club, Shari played the role of the Mayoress of the mythical kingdom of Kartoonia. The show featured a live studio audience, whom Shari entertained with cartoons, games, songs, stories, arts and crafts, magic tricks, informational segments, and skits with puppet characters Taffy Twinkle, Randy Rocket, and Pip Squeak.
The national Shari Lewis Show debuted in 1960, when it replaced The Howdy Doody Show on NBC. Starring the effervescent and multitalented Ms. Lewis with her flaming red hair, the show also featured a set of hand-puppets that Shari brought to hilarious life. Lamb Chop was essentially a sock puppet whose character was that of a shy, soft-spoken, but mischievous and wise-cracking 6-year-old little lamb, who seemed to serve as a sassy alter-ego for Shari. Hush Puppy was a sweet 7-year-old country bumpkin, and Charlie Horse was a cocky, buck-toothed 10-year-old. In addition to her skits with the puppets, Shari also exhibited her song and dance talents on the show, often teaching moral lessons through her performances.
Some 15 years later, Shari starred in a new version of The Shari Lewis Show that aired on NBC and in syndication from 1975-1977. This show focused on pro-social storylines and featured a cast of twenty-five animal puppets including Lamb Chop and a kangaroo named Captain Person, who worked for Bearly Broadcasting Studios (BBS).
In the 1990s, Shari Lewis hosted Lamb Chop’s Play-Along on PBS, a half-hour interactive show that encouraged children to participate by acting out stories, songs, stunts, games and activities. She also starred in another hit PBS series The Charlie Horse Music Pizza show, which was one of her last projects before her death in 1998.
Though Shari Lewis modernized and adapted her shows to suit the pace and sophistication of each successive generation of young viewers, she never deviated from her essential philosophy and format of actively engaging and educating her audience as she entertained them. With her vivacious personality and childlike excitement, she often seemed like a kid herself rather than a teacher or mother-figure. Together with the wonderful hand-puppets she created, I think that’s what made her show so special.
You can watch Shari Lewis and her puppets on these DVD's: A Shari Lewis Christmas (1960), Lambchop's Chanukah and Passover Surprise (1997), and The Shari Show - Featuring Shari Lewis and Lambchop.