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Lambchop!

by James H. Burns

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, Hush Puppy....

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 Never Ends...")

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 resurfaced.

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 and characters.)

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 puppets.

And fall in love.

It was one of the best vignettes produced on American television, in the '70s.

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 back at www.phonics4babies.com.)

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:

www.newsfromme.com

(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 characters.

("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 entertaining!

(Many of Mark's essays on entertainment, and animation lore, as well as his takes on growing up in Southern California are, in fact, unparalleled.)

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 engaging. But the truth is, the guy writes well about just about everything!

James H. Burns

You can learn more about Mark at:

POV Online

Go to the Burns in the City Archives

You can contact Jim at jameshburns2006@gmail.com

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.

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