As my past few posts have shown, the 1950s was a great time for ventriloquism.* Shari Lewis was another of the greats of the time and the art, and ultimately continued her act into the 1990s, becoming an honored name in children’s programming.
Lewis was born Sonya Hurwitz in New York city, daughter of a former professional magician who encouraged her career in show business. She also picked up ventriloquism, and won a first prize on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, launching her career. In 1960, she was given her own children’s show by NBC.
Lewis was different in that she used puppets instead of dummies.** The most famous one was Lamb Chop, a sock puppet lamb who was utterly charming. Others of her characters included the shy Hush Puppy, the slow-on-the-uptake Charlie Horse, and Wing Ding, a crow.***
The show ran until 1963, and Lewis moved on to other projects. The 60s was not a good time for ventriloquists.
But Lamb Chop made a comeback in 1992 with Lamb Chop’s Play-Along on PBS in 1992. It introduced here (and Shari) to a whole new generation of children, and won several daytime Emmys. And you can now start singing the song that doesn’t end…..
*And puppets in general.
**I notice now that one advantage of hand puppets is that they can be held in front of you to block the view of your mouth, so it was harder to see your lips. Lewis didn’t need this particular trick – her technique was fine – but it was interesting to notice.
***She later dropped Wing Ding from the act; the idea of a black crow probably was at least borderline offensive, though Wing Ding was never used for racial laughs.