Shari Lewis was an American ventriloquist, puppeteer, and children’s television show host, most popular during the 1960s and 1990s. She is best known as the original puppeteer of Lamb Chop, first appearing on Hi Mom, a local morning show that aired on WNBC in New York.
Born as Sonia Phyllis Hurwitz to Abraham Hurwitz, an education professor at Yeshiva University, and Ann Ritz, she had one sister. Her parents encouraged her to perform, and by age 13 her father taught her to perform specialized magic acts. She also received instruction in acrobatics, juggling, ice skating, baton twirling, piano and violin. She was taught ventriloquism by John W. Cooper. Lewis 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 for one year, then left college to go into show business.
In 1952, Lewis and her puppetry won first prize on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts television show. In March 1956, Shari and Lamb Chop were on Captain Kangaroo and later that year she had her own show, Shariland, on local TV, which ran through 1958. She graduated to network television in 1960 as host and puppeteer of The Shari Lewis Show, televised in compatible color on NBC, taking the Saturday morning slot vacated by Howdy Doody.
The program, which ran from October 1, 1960 to September 28, 1963, 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 Shari. Hush Puppy had 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 Muppet series.