Shields and Yarnell: Robot Mime Comedy At Its Finest
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
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 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
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
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
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.
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