Lamb Chop — yes, the beloved sock puppet renowned for iconic TV appearances from the 1950s through '90s — is ready for her comeback. The famous anthropomorphic sheep is receiving renewed attention as her backstory and that of her creator, Shari Lewis, is the focus of an upcoming documentary.
Shari & Lamb Chop tells the story of Lewis, the Peabody Award-winning children's entertainer, ventriloquist and groundbreaking puppeteer known for animating Lamb Chop and other characters.
"Most people think of my mom as the little lady who played with puppets. She was so much more than that, like all of us. She was three-dimensional," Mallory Lewis, Shari's daughter, an Emmy-winning writer and self-proclaimed big sister to Lamb Chop, told Yahoo Entertainment. "She had highs, she had lows. She had love, she had hate, she had triumphs, she had disasters. This [documentary] really takes you through not just a linear story of her life, but it shows what she had to overcome."
'Continually underestimated woman'
Shari & Lamb Chop is the "empowering story of a multitalented, continually underestimated woman" who found her own way as she navigated a competitive, male-dominated industry.
Making the documentary has been a labor of love for Mallory. She credits its director Lisa D'Apolito for seeing Shari as "the complicated human being that she is and then portrayed that."
"I love entertainers that you think you know but you don't know. Especially female entertainers who you think are something but they are so much more that deserve to be recognized," D'Apolito told Yahoo Entertainment. "People just think of [Shari] as a children’s performer but she's so much more than that."
Shari first appeared with Lamb Chop on the seminal show Captain Kangaroo in 1956. In 1960, while still in her early 20s, NBC gave Shari her first national network show, The Shari Lewis Show, replacing The Howdy Doody Show.
But Shari still had glass ceilings to break.
"When mom first started as a major producer in children's television, she could not get her own credit card because women couldn't get their own credit cards until 1974," Mallory explained.
Through the decades, Lewis was a hit with Lamb Chop, but had to reinvent herself and her puppets to stay relevant. In 1992, Lewis debuted Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, a children's show that helped her reach a new generation of kids and families. The show, which aired on PBS, featured Lewis and her lovable cast of puppets, including Hush Puppy, Charlie Horse, and of course, the titular Lamb Chop. It also introduced the earworm that would become a signature tune for Lewis and her fluffy minions, "The Song That Doesn't End." (Apologies for getting that stuck in your head for the rest of day.)
"Oh my god, people burst out singing [the song]. As we were walking today in New York City, we were out and when people saw Lamb Chop, they just spontaneously burst [into] 'The Song That Doesn't End,'" Mallory said
"I don't think anyone could keep Shari down. She was just going to keep doing her thing until she achieved what she wanted to, which was to get back on television," D'Apolito explained. "Her drive of reinventing herself and believing in herself, even when other people didn't believe in her, I felt was really super inspiring."
Lamb Chop today
Since Shari's death from cancer in 1998 at age 65, Mallory has taken over the puppeteering and travels the country with Lamb Chop, though her show looks a little different from her mom's.
"Lamb Chop, and I have been touring for 25 years, which means we have been working together half as long as she and mom worked together, which is kind of fun," Mallory explained. "We tour performing arts centers and the show is not aimed at children. I mean, it's appropriate. It's not like Lamb Chop has a martini and a cigarette onstage. But it is not aimed at kids. It is aimed at the 30-plus [crowd]."
While half the show is performance, the other half is Mallory "telling stories about mom."
"Carrying on the legacy with Lamb Chop has been one of the greatest joys of my life," she said. Continuing to tell her mother's story is "a great joy."
"My mom was mom to millions and millions and millions of people in this country. So I have this huge family out there who has always loved my mom and I'm very lucky," Mallory said. "How many people have hundreds and hundreds of beautifully [well-lit] edited footage of their mother?"
While Shari & Lamb Chop doesn't have a designated streaming home or release date as of yet, D'Apolito is working on booking more dates for in-person screenings.
"I think Shari's message is to keep going no matter what is going on and believe in yourself," she said."I'm hoping that [audiences] feel inspired and they feel empowered to be whoever they want to be."