A few years ago, during the Christmas season, I had the rather
extraordinary experience of seeing Mallory Lewis star in her lovely
"one-woman" variety show, with that great American kids-TV icon,
Lambchop... Happily, Lewis--also a talented writer and television
producer--is still performing, and the show can be booked virtually
anywhere in the country:
Potentially, of course, making ANY day a holiday...!
It turns out there are several different shows that Lewis performs
including, I'm happy to note, a celebration of American history. The
variety of the venues is in itself impressive, ranging from community
centers to STATE FAIRS, night clubs, and theatres.
(Lewis has also toured extensively with the USO, for which Lambchop was
"recently pinned" by a Marine General!)
Mallory is carrying on the great act and tradition begun by her mom,
Shari Lewis, for decades, with such puppets as Lambchop, Charlie Horse,
I feel strange calling this "an act." Almost as strange as it seems to
call Lambchop a puppet. Because while Shari Lewis was a spectacularly
talented ventriloquist, she was also a terrific actress. The reason I
think she clicked with kids AND adults both, beginning in the 1950s, was
that she had that inner glow and charm that is almost impossible to
capture in words, but which when it's there and glimmers, manages to
transcend the TV, or whatever medium the performer inhabits.
And Lambchop lives in the hearts of millions.
Mallory Lewis' show is terrific. It turns out she co-produced the last
several TV shows her mom did--many of which are still available on
video, over at Amazon. But no one knew, apparently, that she also,
somewhere along the way, picked up her family heritage for performing--
And, as our pal Paul Winchell might have said, "Ventrilliliqui...."
Lovely and a good singer, Lewis' neatest attribute was her immediate,
and warm, rapport with the kids in the audience. The show was a Chanukah
party/concert in Manhattan. And when Lewis appeared center stage, with
Lambchop, I was moved.
How could this be?
I'm not old enough to have seen the TV shows that first made Shari Lewis
a household name. And I was TOO old for the PBS shows of the late 1980s
that returned Lambchop and Company to fame. (And, to be honest, I got a
little tired of hearing tykes singing that show's theme, "The Song That
But the Shari Lewis show had become legendary in my home. Older
relatives had grown up with her, and still loved her. And my father had
been entirely taken with the winning gamine from the Bronx.
As I became entirely enthralled by the later 1960s shows of Soupy Sales
and Frank Nastassi, Chuck McCann, and Paul Winchell, folks would tell me
how great the Lamb Chop series had been, and how great it would be if
Shari would return to TV.
I must have seen Lambchop and the gang on some variety show appearance
of some kind, because I had memories of the characters by the time they
But what was the power in that New York theatre, as Mallory Lewis began
bantering with whom I guess one could even say is really her sister? I
think it's the emotion that's palpable when people encounter artists and
characters that they've loved since childhood.
The ten-year-olds there had ALSO grown up with Lambchop. The joy in
their minds was as strong as ours would have been, when tots, if
encountering one of OUR childhood heroes.
By the end of the hour, at least a couple of the grandparents had tears
in their eyes. But that's what happens when an icon comes to life, at
least as marvelously performed by Mallory Lewis.
(Lewis also hosts, and has written a new DVD/video series for
toddlers,PHONICS FOR BABIES, featuring a new conglomeration of puppets
Afterwards, chatting with Jopseh Giangrasso, the shows' producer, I
suddenly remembered that EXTRAORDINARY episode of LOVE AMERICAN STYLE
Shari Lewis did, with Paul Winchell.
Lewis and Winchell play two ventriloquists waiting in a talent agents'
office. Their dummies are on their knees. But the two of them are too
painfully, way too painfully, shy to even talk to each other. I mean,
the ventriloquists. So, the two of them start chatting, WITH their
And fall in love.
It was one of the best vignettes produced on American television, in the
The great punchline to all this, was that Giangrasso then told me
something I never knew, that that episode was written by Jeremy Tarcher,
a celebrated book publisher, Shari's husband--
And Mallory's Dad.
James H. Burns
You can get more information about Mallory Lewis (and Lambchop!), at
www.lambchop.tv, or www.mallorylewisandlambchop.com. (You can also check
BITS AND PIECES
If parts of this article seem familiar to you, it may be because an
earlier version ran over at Mark Evanier's wonderful website/weblog:
(Evanier has been extremely gracious over the past few years, featuring
some of my missives, for which I can finally take the PUBLIC opportunity
to say, I'm delighted!)
Most of you have probably "met" Mark somewhere before, because he's been
involved with a myriad of lovely pop cultural worlds, for DECADES.
Mark broke into "show business" in 1974, writing for several sitcoms and
variety shows (including the first year of Welcome Back, Kotter), and
has also served as a story
editor and producer.
He's written extensively for almost all of the major comics companies,
commencing in the very early 1970s, ultimately creating scripts for the
comic book adventures of many of America's most famous cartoon
("Around 1974," he also "spent a year running an overseas comic book
division for the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate" (Tarzan, Korak...).)
Both of these passions seemed to collide later in the decade with
Evanier's numerous contributions to Saturday morning cartoons. His most
notable credit may have been on Jim Davis' GARFIELD AND FRIENDS, for
which, at various times, Evanier wrote, co-produced and voice-cast
directed.. That relationship continues TODAY on the THREE DIMENSIONALLY
animated THE GARFIELD SHOW, which is produced out of France, but for
which Mark is a writer, supervising producer, and directs its voice-over
ensemble in Los Angeles!
(Evanier's also an exceptional HISTORIAN of these genres, his books
including MAD ART (about the artists of MAD MAGAZINE), KIRBY: KING OF
COMICS (about--of course!--Jack Kirby), and COMIC BOOKS AND OTHER
NECESSITIES OF LIFE.
(Those looking to break into screenwriting, comics, or voice-acting
should be encouraged to check out several of the related, terrific
columns Mark's written, accessible at his website's "archives.")
Now, it's entirely possible that whenever you first click on Mark's
www.newsfromme.com (and I recommend that you do so soon!) you might
encounter the scribe during one of his rare dry stretch of days.
Or, that you might not agree with Mark's politics. (But in truth,
doesn't that make things more interesting?)
(Some detractors aren't fond of Mark's forays into the world of chain
restaurants, or "lost" Los Angeles destinations. But as a one-time
devotee of fast food franchises--as you'll discover in this column, in
weeks to come--and someone who can still be fascinated by the business
structure of these enterprises, I find those Evanier articles VERY
(Many of Mark's essays on entertainment, and animation lore, as well as
his takes on growing up in Southern California are, in fact,
It's tempting to suggest that it's all of Mark's experiences and
disciplines that help make his views so generally well informed and
But the truth is, the guy writes well about just about everything!
James H. Burns
You can learn more about Mark at:
Go to the Burns in the City Archives
You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org
As an actor, one of Jim's happiest memories is of appearing in two
guest-shots on what's considered the "last" Tri-State area show to
capture the spirit of the classic era of local kid's TV: THE UNCLE FLOYD
SHOW, the cult comedy program, both when it was on New Jersey's own
Channel 68, and later when it was syndicated, featured daily on NBC-TV
late-night, in New York. (Burns says he, "Still misses Oogie.") (Jim's
also been seen in several films and television shows, and on stage, with
the Little People's Theatre Company (Manhattan's longest-running,
childrens' theatre), several "readings" of new works, and with the New
York Actors Ensemble (and others!)
Burns was actually a pioneer of the second
wave of fantasy and science fiction movie magazines, being one of the
first writers for Starlog (and several other late 1970s publications),
and a contributing editor to Fantastic Films, and Prevue. (He wrote the
earliest of these articles, when he was thirteen...!)
Burns was one of the field's first writers to cross over to such
mainstream fare as Gentleman's Quarterly, Esquire, and American Film,
while still contributing to such genre stalwarts as Cinefantastique,
Starburst, Heavy Metal and Twilight Zone magazines.
He also wrote articles for Marvel and DC Comics.
More recently, Jim has made several behind-the-scenes contributions to
Off-Broadway, and Broadway productions, become active in radio, and
written Op-Eds, or features, for Newsday, The Village Voice,
TheSportingNews.com and The New York Times.