×

Shields and Yarnell: Robot Mime Comedy At Its Finest

Entertainment | September 10, 2020

Shields and Yarnell as The Clinkers in a publicity photo. Source: eBay

Shields and Yarnell -- the robot-imitating mime team of Robert Shields and Lorene Yarnell -- pushed the boundaries of entertainment during the 1970s when goofy sketches and variety shows were all the rage. The duo fused together elements of the circus with comedy through their eccentric miming routines, a style of performance considered dated and unpopular with TV audiences. The duo's outlandish robot routines made them stars, even though viewers weren't quite sure what they were seeing and when to laugh.

Robert Shields Was A Talented Mime

Source: robertshields.com

Robert Shields began his career as a teenage street mime performing across Los Angeles. Renowned French mime Marcel Marceau discovered Shields miming outside of the Hollywood Wax Museum and offered him a scholarship to his mime school in Paris. Shields accepted, but soon dropped out because he wanted to create his own style of miming rather than following the norm. Shields then moved to San Francisco to apply his own abnormal methods to miming at Union Square where he became one of the biggest performing acts of the city.

A Love Story Turned Comedy Act

Lorene Yarnell was an actress and a dancer who had performed on some of the prominent shows of the period including The Dean Martin Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and Shindig. Yarnell first met Shields while they were both working on the Sid and Marty Krofft variety show Fol-De-Rol, which was Shields’ first appearance on TV. The pair fell in love immediately through their deep connection and similar interests. Shields and Yarnell made an extraordinary team and each taught the other their personal talents (Yarnell learned how to mime from Shields and Shields learned how to dance from Yarnell), serving as ideal complements to each other. The couple married in 1972.

The Mime Act Does The Robot

Shields and Yarnell as The Clinkers. Source: IMDB

Shields and Yarnell moved to Los Angeles after marrying to pursue their miming dreams, but the city was initially confused by these white-faced mimes wearing matching bandleader costumes. In modern times, nobody would bet that a mime act would succeed in popular American entertainment -- it's just an art form that was already considered dated and too French. That’s when they decided to take a twist on miming. Shields and Yarnell jumped on the emerging sci-fi trend, reimagining mime for audiences who were enamored of movies and programs such as Star Wars and Star Trek -- they decided to use their mime skills to portray robots. Shields and Yarnell collected toys so their home was overflowing with dolls, trains, mechanical wind-ups, and arcade games, which they studied to learn their stiff, mechanical moves. This led to their successful mime-robot characters called The Clinkers. The Clinkers routine was beyond strange, but it seemed to draw the best reaction from audiences -- a bizarre break from the jokey or slapstick comedy on every sketch program.  

Shields And Yarnell Played The Absurdity Of Our Automated Age For Laughs

Robert Shields in a Clinkers sketch on The Muppet Show. Source: YouTube

The Clinkers’ bizarre movements is what Shields and Yarnell became famous for. The performances would involve moving their limbs like a robot as if they were controlled by a motor, abrupt and unnatural movement, and even odd facial expressions moving their eyes and eyebrows in an extremely motorized manner. Shields is even credited as creating the beloved dance move “The Robot” as these mechanical movements were applied rhythmically in this dance. Shields and Yarnell guaranteed every detail of The Clinkers would be executed precisely as a real robot would. 


Shields And Yarnell Appeared On TV Over 400 Times

Shields and Yarnell performing a robotic version of Sonny and Cher on 'The Sonny & Cher Show.' Source: YouTube

The audience adored this peculiar act and soon Shields and Yarnell became television icons appearing as regulars on The Sonny & Cher Show, The Muppets, and The Tonight Show. In 1977, they actually had their own variety show that they wrote and choreographed, The Shields And Yarnell Show on CBS. This half-hour variety show involved miming, dancing, comedy sketches (The Clinkers were the main act), but only lasted for one season because of the variety show competition of the 1970s. The two also won an Emmy for their scripted CBS special Toys on The Town.

Life After Shields And Yarnell

Lorene Yarnell as Dot Matrix in 'Spaceballs.' Source: Prop Store Auction

While their popularity started to dwindle as they moved past their peak, Shields and Yarnell continued to utilize their unique talents through different outlets. Yarnell performed as the body of Dot Matrix, the female robot spoof of Star Wars’ C3PO, in the 1987 film Spaceballs (with Joan Rivers providing the vocals for Dot). Shields went on to become the Director of Clowning for Ringling Bros & Barnum and Bailey Circus, putting his clowning talents to even greater use. Unfortunately, the duo was not as perfect of a pair as it seemed to the public as they divorced in 1986. Their friendship remained strong and they occasionally reunited to tour together with their beloved act. Shields now dedicates his time to painting, designing jewelry, and ceramics, and Yarnell passed away in 2010 of an aneurysm.

Tags: Remember This?... | Shields And Yarnell | Variety Shows | What Did They Do?...

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook

Brian Gilmore

Writer

Brian Gilmore has been writing about and studying everything the Internet loves since 2006 and you've probably accidentally read something he's written before, and if you haven't, you're already reading this bio, so that's a good start. He's a culture junkie ranging from Internet culture, to world history, to listening to way more podcasts than the average human being ever should. He's obsessed with the social catalysts that have caused some of the biggest movements of the last few hundred years, including everything from their effect on the pop culture of the time, to where they end up ideologically. The idea that generations have a beginning and an end is fascinating to him, and the fact that their lasting effects at any given point of their evolution can steer the direction of the entire world lead to some interesting questions, and answers, about our current culture at any given time. He also loves retrofuturism, phobias, and the fact that every pop culture icon has at least a few photos of them that make you feel like you might know them. History isn't a collection of stories as much as it is humanity trying its hardest to maintain a grasp on lessons we've learned before as a species, and that is just way too interesting to not look into a few hours a week. Oh and he used to collect Pez dispensers.