Monday, August 03, 1998
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Popular puppeteer Shari Lewis, who won a dozen Emmys
and a Peabody for children's programs that began drawing network audiences
in 1960, died Sunday night of pneumonia while being treated at Cedars-Sinai
Hospital. Her family was at her side. She was 65.
It takes a very talented person to turn an old sock
into a superstar. Yet that's just what Lewis did when she created the
character of Lamb Chop. It all started when she and her sock made a guest
appearance on a TV show. Kids loved it -- and so did parents. By 1960, the
perky, pint-sized performer with the flaming red hair had her own show,
"The Shari Lewis Show," encouraging kids to participate in
fun-filled games while teaching them moral lessons through song and dance.
"Self esteem comes from doing something and accomplishing
something," she once said. "It doesn't come from watching TV. I
try to do activities, I try to turn TV into an activity." The concept
of the show remained the same for decades. In an age of Power Rangers and
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, her show was refreshingly old-fashioned.
"A mother came up to me and said, 'I want to thank you for keeping our
kids kids for a little while longer,'" she said. "I was
Yet she also managed to stay in tune with her little viewers. As their
attention spans became shorter over the years, so did her skits. "I let
the winds of MTV blow through the show whenever possible, a lot of
electronics for transitions, a lot of effects," she explained. And she
added CD-ROMs to her repertoire -- they were the best-selling, and
best-reviewed, to come out in a number of years.
Her innovation in children's programming didn't stop with Lamb Chop's
creation.The latest of her many shows, the PBS children's series "The
Charlie Horse Music Pizza," became a family venture, with daughter
Mallory and longtime husband Jeremy Tarcher as part of the creative team.
They were all working together when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer in
Lewis was a gifted singer, dancer, writer, ventriloquist and musician. She
wrote over 30 books, sold thousands of videos and won 12 Emmys, including
five for her last PBS series, "Lamb Chop's Play-Along." But many
say she was also something more.
Lewis cared about quality television, and she always cared about the kids.