As a little girl, Mallory Lewis sometimes received visits from Lamb Chop before bed. “I could tell Lamb Chop anything. I could tell her I lost my new white sweater at school, and Lamb chop never tattled on me once,” Mallory tells Closer. 

The daughter of Shari Lewis, who brought Lamb Chop and other puppets to vivid life for generations of children, is featured in a new documentary on her mother’s life, early success and comeback in the 1990s. “Her story really is the underdog story,” notes Shari & Lamb Chop director Lisa D’Apolito to Closer.

Shari grew up surrounded by the arts: Her father was a magician-turned-college professor, and her mom was an accomplished pianist and educator. A precocious child, she taught herself ventriloquism, but Shari aspired to be an actress. She only began performing with puppets in the 1950s.

Five years after her ventriloquist act won first prize on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, Shari introduced Lamb Chop on the children’s program Captain Kangaroo. “She called her father and said, ‘Watch this Saturday, Dad. This is it. This is the magic,’” recalls Mallory. 

Love & Puppets

Mallory, the child of her mother’s long marriage to publisher Jeremy Tarcher, grew up in a busy household. “She always worked from home. We had a full-on, staffed office in our house. I’d come home, we’d talk for three minutes, and then she went back to work,” recalls Mallory.

Although Shari was the primary earner in their family, she also ran the household. She didn’t cook, but “she always made sure there was dinner on the table,” says Mallory. “She purposely didn’t learn to drive because carpool would be a waste of her time, but she made sure I had playdates.”

As a child of educators, Shari believed that children should be encouraged to learn. “Mom respected children, and she expected a lot from children,” says Mallory. “She’d say, ‘Get off the couch. Jump, run, read, learn.’ She did not have respect for people who did not try. She always encouraged children to try.”

Mallory calls her mother one of the most “focused” people she has ever known, but Shari also made time for her daughter. Returning home from a business trip, Shari would often lie to her staff about her arrival so she and Mallory could spend a few quiet hours together. “She was really fun,” Mallory says. “She and I used to have a good giggle together.”

After she lost her mother to cancer in 1998, “I kept getting letters asking, ‘Is Lamb Chop dead, too?’ And I could not let that be the case,” says Mallory, who began doing live shows with Lamb Chop. “I get greeted with every bit of love my mother earned.”