Kool Kat of the Week: Mallory Lewis Loves Her Life with Lamb Chop

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2014 By:

Mallory Lewis and Lamb Chop.

When ATLRetro heard that Shari Lewis’s daughter Mallory would be bringing the world’s most famous sock puppet Lamb Chop to the Center for Puppetry Arts for a new show LAMB CHOP 2.0 this Saturday April 26 at 3 p.m., we knew we had our Kool Kat of the Week.

Before the Muppets, Lamb Chop and Shari Lewis were household names. Then in the 1990s, a whole new generation was introduced the world’s most famous sock puppet with the PBS series LAMB CHOP’S PLAY ALONG. Mallory’s visit was prompted by a new Lamb Chop US Commemorative Postage Stamp, which will be launched at the Center on Friday. Her Saturday show, part of the Center’s National Day of Puppetry celebration, includes not just a Lamb Chop performance, carrying on her mother’s legacy, but also anecdotes, clips and an audience Q&A about life with her mom and the world’s most famous sock puppet!

Needless to say, ATLRetro had plenty of questions of our own, so we nabbed an exclusive interview with Mallory, whom we found out quickly was as cool and fun as her celebrity mom. If you think you have to be a kid to go see her, well, she’ll quickly set you straight. As she says below, her audiences typically are the adults, aka big kids, like us. Oh, and yes we sure did ask her about her mom’s STAR TREK connection and found out that there actually are two!

ATLRetro: What’s your earliest memory of Lamb Chop?

Mallory Lewis: I don’t know the first, but there was always Lamb Chop in my life. My mom put her in my crib when I was a baby, and I put her in my son’s crib when he was a baby.

When you were little, did you think Lamb Chop was real?

I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Of course, Lamb Chop’s real. Funny story about my son though. My son is a straight A student, always has been, top private school, really smart. He was about 10, and we were coming back from a gig and Lamb Chop was in the trunk of the car and my husband was driving. And Jamie said, “you know, Mom, I don’t think Lamb Chop was as funny today.” I said, “oh, OK.” Then all of a sudden his eyes got really big, and he goes, “do you think she could hear me in the way, way back? I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” I said, “no, I don’t think she could hear you, sweetie.” So Lamb Chop is very real to our family.

Were the ‘60s really the prime of Lamb Chop’s fame?

Not really. Mom went on TV in 1956 and went off TV in 1999. LAMB CHOP’S PLAY ALONG years were the second wave. That’s was the ’90s when she was on PBS every single day. That’s why my audiences tend to be adults because the 20somethings all grew up with Lamb Chop and the ever-present song that doesn’t end. That’s one of the reasons why I enjoy performing for the troops so much because they remember Lamb Chop and it’s a very happy time in their life as opposed to the current time in their life where people are shooting at them.

But there was a period between the original show and the rebirth in the ‘90s when Lamb Chop was not on the air? What brought Lamb Chop back?

My mother’s indomitable will. During the years when she didn’t have a series, she performed at state fairs, she wrote 60 books, she conducted symphonies. She was simply not going to not come back.

Why do you think Lamb Chop bridges the generations? Lamb Chop in the ’50s and the ’60s and Lamb Chop in the ’90s and now?

What’s so interesting about Lamb Chop is she’s one of the great characters on television or in media. She is as real as character to people as Alan Alda’s [Hawkeye] was on M*A*S*H. And it is sort of the purity of her character—I don’t man purity in a religious way—but the honesty of who she is as a character that resonates with people. She says things that everybody wishes they could say.

When you were growing up, you met a lot of celebrities. Do you have a favorite memory of meeting someone famous?

I have two favorites. When I was five years old, I was terrified of THE WIZARD OF OZ. It was the scariest movie on the planet. I came into my house, and [Margaret Hamilton] the woman who played the Wicked Witch was sitting in the living room. I took one look at her and screamed and went running upstairs. My mother was like “Margaret, I am so sorry!” Margaret was like “that’s OK, it happens to me all the time.” The other was coming into the house when I was older, but not a lot older, and Tiny Tim was sitting in my living room playing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” on his ukulele.

You traveled a lot when your mother was on tour with Lamb Chop. What were some of the more exotic places you got to go?

Well, Mom used to every year trade her services at the Aloha Bowl. She would do the half-time show and trade it for a vacation in Hawaii, so that was fun. I do a lot more exotic travel with Lamb Chop now than I did as a child. I rode through Africa on horseback going from Masai village to Masai village performing with Lamb Chop. It was very interesting. They have no history of puppetry. They don’t know what ventriloquism is. So I pretty much made children cry in each village until they got to know me.

I take my son almost everywhere with me, and one of the reasons I started doing Lamb Chop is I wanted my son to understand who his Grandma was to people and what Lamb Chop meant to people. The only way to do that was to keep her alive. She’s been such a blessing. I was eight weeks pregnant when Mom died. My son is 15 now. But he knows who she is through all the performances.

Can you tell us a bit about the show on Saturday?

The show that I do now is a hybrid show. It’s half me and Lamb Chop performing and half me telling stories about Mom and showing videos. Little kids love the show, no question, but my audience is usually 80% adults. Five people in a family will drag one three-year-old to the show. The three-year-old has no idea who Lamb Chop is, and the five adults stand in line to meet her afterwards. My show stars me and Lamb Chop and Mom, and that’s really fun.

Mallory Lewis and Lamb Chop with Nicolosi, the artist behind the Shari Lewis US Commemorative Stamp.

There’s a Q&A at the end. Are you surprised by the questions people come up with?

No, people often will tell me that they had a very bad childhood and that my mother was the adult that they loved the most in their childhood. She was the one who made them feel that it all was going to be OK. So that’s really the nicest thing.

Do you have anything special planned for the Center for Puppetry Arts?

Well, yeah, I do, because the day before on April 25, Mom is getting a US Commemorative Postage Stamp. The artist who painted it is a gentleman named Nicolosi. Remember that show, INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO? This show at the Center has some elements of that where I am going to be interviewed, and then there’s the Q&A also at the end of the show. So it’s going to be unusual in that I don’t normally perform with any other live people on stage. I will be singing, there will be comedy, there will be video and there will be questions. , magic

How did you transition to performing with Lamb Chop? Was it a challenge or a natural experience?

Totally natural. When mom died, if I hadn’t picked up Lamb Chop, then Lamb Chop would have died, too. So that was not possible. I couldn’t let that happen. I was at an event where Mom was getting a posthumous award, and I tucked her in the podium first because I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. I put her on, and she just said “Thank you so much. Shari would be so proud.” Then there was this silence, and then there was a gasp. And then there was all this applause. I thought, I like this.

I never had to learn how to do Lamb Chop. I had to learn the material, and I had to learn stage presence. So I did a two-three minute show at the LA Zoo, then a five-minute show. Then I started performing at the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. It just sort of grew that way. One of my favorite shows was the last time I was at the Center for Puppetry Arts four years ago. I performed in front of a huge crowd of thousands of people [at the Ferst Center]. It was so wonderful because [the audience] was all puppeteers. Anyway I was so scared because the group that is going to criticize you the most are your peers. And everyone was so kind. Vince [Anthony, founder of the Center] came up to me afterwards and said, “That was a triumph.” One of those memories in my life that makes me the happiest is when I think of that.

A scene from the STAR TREK episode, "The Lights of Zetar."

What do you think about the role of the Center for Puppetry Arts?

It is the classiest place in the country for puppets. The curating that they do of the Henson characters and all the characters is magnificent. The shows that they bring in are such high quality. It is such a treasure to have such a cross between a museum and a performing arts center and a boutique educational center. You can experience puppets any way that you want to there. You can look at them. You can watch them. And you can learn things about them. I think it’s a really valuable place, and it’s run very beautifully. I could have debuted this and had the stamp unveiling any place in the country and I chose the Center because I think it’s such a valuable place in our society.

I want to ask you one non-Lamb Chop question. You would have been very small, but what can you tell us about your mother’s experience co-writing a STAR TREK episode, The Lights of Zetar”?

Yes, I’ll tell you a STAR TREK story. My family are complete STAR TREK geeks and DOCTOR WHO. Total geeks. I want a DOCTOR WHO movie to come out so badly, and I would like to be a Companion. My mom wrote that STAR TREK episode with the intention of starring in it as Lieutenant Mira Romaine, and three weeks before the show shot, the producer’s or director’s girlfriend got the role. It was something my mother never got over. She was mad about that for her entire life.

My uncle Lan O’Kun created the character of Lwaxana Troi, Deanna Troi’s mother. What’s funny is my whole life people have said that character reminds them of me—the wacky mom—and all the women in my family. I didn’t know my uncle had created that character until two months ago. Now it makes sense as to why that character rings so true.

Click here to find more info or purchase tickets to LAMB CHOP 2.0.

 

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