Daughter brings Lamb Chop, her moms legacy to San Francisco

The late Jewish puppeteer Shari Lewis, creator of the spunky sock puppet Lamb Chop, finally found a way to keep her daughter from skydiving.

"I can't go because I don't want to hurt my wrist," explained Mallory Lewis, who began slipping Lamb Chop onto her arm 18 months ago, some time after her mother's death from uterine cancer in 1998.

So when Jump for a Cause, her nonprofit that raises money for breast cancer research, set an all-female, free-fall formation record in Southern California on Oct. 19 and raised $400,000, Lewis was not among the 131 women sky diving.

Lamb Chop, on the other hand, had nothing holding her back. "I climbed into somebody's jumpsuit," said the little Jewish lady lamb, over the telephone from Lewis' Malibu home, in her charming, 6-year-old sock-puppet voice. "It was scary. We jumped from 18,000 feet. But the girls were so nice. They put me on oxygen so I wouldn't get dizzy."

Lamb Chop and Lewis will perform Sunday at Hadassah's annual donor luncheon at Alexandra's at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco's Union Square.

Lewis, who along with Shari earned the only mother-daughter Emmy Award for outstanding writing in a children's television series in 1992-1993, didn't originally intend to take over her mother's legacy. Working as her mother's producer and head writer, "it never occurred to me there would be a need. I always thought my mom would be there."

The flaming red-haired, 5-foot-tall Shari Lewis won 13 Emmys for her work with Lamb Chop and had been a television personality from the age of 15 until her death at 65.

But after her mother died, Lewis — who had written more than 20 children's novels under the name Mallory Tarcher — and her husband of six years learned they were going to have a son. "I realized I wanted my son to know Lamb Chop. It just grew and grew — somewhere along the line Lamb Chop took over."

Lamb Chop, she added, was "not done performing when my mom died and therefore, she roped me into this."

Although Lewis said she is much improved in her performance with Lamb Chop, her transformation was pretty much instantaneous. "I love performing. Who knew!"

Over the past 18 months Lewis and Lamb Chop have been on the road singing and educating more than 120 audiences of all ages, including a Hadassah event in New Jersey. The duo is currently in development on a television series. A DVD called "Lamb Chop's Chanukah and Passover Surprise," combining footage with Shari and Mallory Lewis, recently hit the market.

"I've always worked for Lamb Chop and for my mother," said Lewis. "I feel like I'm just continuing in another capacity because Lamb Chop is just such a unique character."

Lewis, who describes herself as culturally Jewish, lives in Malibu with her husband, Brad, and son James, now 3-1/2.

Like her mother and grandmother before her, she is a lifetime member of Hadassah. "Lamb Chop," she said, "would also like to become a lifetime member." Both performers are delighted to take part in the San Francisco chapter's annual luncheon and have a great deal of respect for the values of the organization.

"They are a group of strong Jewish women accomplishing what they set out to do," said Lewis. "The ladies of Hadassah remind me of the women in my family. They carry a great deal of personal power. If they say they're going to do something, they get it done. That is what I was raised to believe the definition of a woman was."

Lamb Chop agreed.

"My goodness, I love Hadassah," she said. "They're strong women and that's cool. Plus I love San Francisco. There's great food there."

On that topic, Lewis noted that while Lamb Chop "is definitely kosher" she is also "non-edible."

But Lamb Chop wasn't too worried.

"They won't eat me," said Lamp Chop, giggling. "I'm too famous."