VIEWERS WILL SEE a truly poignant tube moment tomorrow morning: the
farewell appearance of Shari Lewis, the beloved kids-TV puppeteer.
It's the final episode of her last series, "The Charlie Horse Music
Pizza," taped in a Vancouver studio on June 18, 1998 - only a few
hours after Lewis learned she had inoperable uterine cancer. It airs at
9:30 a.m. on WNET/13.
Lewis, a 12-time Emmy winner whose TV career spanned five decades,
died 46 days later. She was 65.
The episode ends with a song, appropriately titled "Hello, Goodbye,"
directed to cast member Junior (Wezley Morris), who's going off to
college. The song - which was planned months before Lewis learned of
her disease - was meant to convey to young viewers what it means to
have someone leave your life and move on.
Fate gave the moment added resonance; as Lewis performed the song,
110 crew members had just found out she was seriously ill.
"It was a way of Shari saying goodbye to the kids, to her family
[her husband, book publisher Jeremy Tarcher, was on the set] - and
the world," says daughter and "Music Pizza" producer Mallory
Tarcher-Hood. "She would have wanted that wonderful last moment on
stage. She wouldn't have been happy having a two-year [death] sentence
hanging over her head."
Despite the pain she was experiencing, Lewis shot the scene
three times until she felt it was right. Then she left for Los Angeles
to undergo chemotherapy, never to return.
"During the last chorus, my mom - just for a moment - has
such a look of puzzlement in her eyes as if she can't believe it's
goodbye," recalls Tarcher-Hood, 36. "She did everything right. She
didn't smoke or drink. She exercised, took vitamins, ate her vegetables
and had eight hours of sleep. At that moment, the irony of her demise at
such an early age really struck her.
"Everybody knew that Mom was really ill," she continues. "But nobody
felt that she was going to die. She was too full of life to consider
Lewis, a native New Yorker, first made her TV mark in the 1950s,
voicing her trio of simple sock puppets: Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse and
Hush Puppy. In the '60s, she hosted her own NBC show and then enjoyed a
career resurgence in the '90s, winning five Emmys for "Lamb Chop's
Sing-Along" (1990-95) and then following up with "The Charlie Horse
Music Pizza," a program designed to foster young kids' interest in music
education. That show debuted in January, 1998; tomorrow's episode was
the third of a planned 20 scheduled for "Music Pizza's" second season.
Although "Music Pizza" will be off the air as of Monday,
Tarcher-Hood plans to keep her mother's legacy flourishing with a
variety of projects.
The first of those projects arrived in video stores last week: "The
Best of Shari Lewis' Lamb Chop & Friends" (Golden Books Family
Entertainment, $9.98), a compilation of musical moments from her two
most recent shows. Next up is an animated Lamb Chop series.
"The Henson kids have done a brilliant sense of keeping their
father's life alive," says Tarcher-Hood, who's expecting her first child
in seven weeks. "I hope to follow."