Brian Brennan on Shari Lewis, a woman of many talents


Shari Lewis and her puppets Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse, from The Ford Show, 7 April 1960. Publicity photo
Shari Lewis and her puppets Lamb Chop and Charlie Horse, from The Ford Show, 7 April 1960. Publicity photo


Shari Lewis made her mark as a talented ventriloquist with a sock puppet named Lamb Chop. But as  Arts columnist Brian Brennan  discovered when he interviewed her, Lewis had much more going for her talentwise than ventriloquism. An excerpt of Brennan’s latest Brief Encounters column, A Playmate Who Loved Good Music: Shari Lewis (paywall):

Before I met Shari Lewis, I was under the impression – probably like a lot of people – that she was just a popular children’s entertainer; a ventriloquist with a cute sock puppet named Lamb Chop. To my surprise, I discovered she was much more: a trained musician who played violin and conducted symphony orchestras, an actor-dancer who had done Broadway musicals on tour, and a published book author and newspaper columnist. If she had to settle for one career, she said, it would be as a writer. But she was doing it all.

We spoke just before Lewis was due to perform a Christmas show with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. She had taken up conducting a few years earlier, mainly because of the encouragement of her music director, a man whose real name – Stormy Sacks – sounded like it might belong to one of her puppets. “Mother used to say that, for me, music was a vaccination that didn’t take,” said Lewis. “My great joy has always been solfeggio (sight-reading exercises) and musical theory. But the orchestra is now my instrument.”

Was she nervous when she did her first orchestral gig, with the Dallas Symphony? “Facing the Stravinsky score was more of a challenge than stepping up in front of the musicians,” she replied. “When I looked at it, I realized it would be a real challenge for me to communicate this. But once I got to the podium I knew just what I had to do” …  log in* to read A Playmate Who Loved Good Music: Shari Lewis.

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