Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shields and Yarnell - Living Toys

Is it possible to make a career of playing a mime? Robert Shields and Linda Yarnell proved that it is not only possible but quite a lucrative business. 

Without a spoken word, Shields and Yarnell made a name for themselves displaying mime acts of "controlled insanity" in over 400 television appearances throughout the 1970s and 1980s. One of their most famous portrayals was as "The Clinkers", a married robot couple who attempt to lead a regular human life but do so with uproarious results. Everyday tasks like doing the wash, reading a newspaper, or going to the office for work prove to be difficult for robots. 

"....let's go and meet the Clinkers and see what they don't have to say!"

Lorene Yarnell, an off-Broadway variety performer and dancer, had met Robert Shields, a mime artist, during the making of Fol-de-Rol a 1972 Sid and Marty Krofft television special. The two hit it off immediately and married that same year. Yarnell taught Shields dance, while Shields taught Yarnell mime, and together they formed an act that would knock the artistic art of miming off its lofty pedestal and make it entertaining for the masses. 

For several years they performed on the streets of San Francisco, occasionally making guest appearances on television. It was not until 1976, when they became regulars on The Sonny and Cher Show, that the American public fully embraced their unique - and highly amusing - routines. These appearances were so well received that CBS signed them to their own comedy-variety show The Shields and Yarnell Show ( 1977-1978 ). 
"As a team. Shields & Yarnell are magical, innovative and pure entertainment - Yarnell's tap dancing is flawless." - Gene Kelly

When their show ended, they continued to perform in Las Vegas, on Broadway, on numerous television variety shows, with orchestras across the country, and around the world. Robert Shields gave two presidential performances as well as a command performance for Queen Elizabeth. 

Their improvisational form of miming lent itself well to talk shows, too, and Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin especially enjoyed having them as guest stars. One of their most memorable appearances was on The Muppet Show ( 1979 ) where they performed a segment featuring The Clinkers having breakfast. 

"Robert Shields is the greatest mime in America" - Marcel Marceau

During the mid-1980s, Shields and Yarnell broke up their act and divorced ( perhaps there was a lack of communication? ).....Yarnell later remarried and moved to Norway, where she died at the age of 66 in 2010. Robert Shields made a name for himself as an artist, working in ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, and painting, which he still does in his studio in Arizona. He is currently working on a documentary Robert Shields : My Life as a Robot. 

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the update and for the memories. I'm glad there were so many platforms for their talent.

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    1. There were indeed a number of platforms for their talent, but I think if a younger generation of mimes started today there would be even more opportunities for them on stage and in TV. Although, we no longer have any of those fabulous variety shows like there were in the 1970s. Shucks.

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  2. I remember Shields and Yarnell! I didn't watch SONNY & CHER, but think I caught Y&Y's own variety show a couple of times. Oh, the days of the primetime network variety show....

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    1. Yes, and I'm so glad people saved the clips from all the different variety shows so we can enjoy them on Youtube at least.

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  3. A nice look back at one of the most offbeat TV duos of the '70s. It's worth noting that Lorene Yarnell's biggest post-S&Y performance was one where she never showed her face, as the actor inside robot Dot Matrix (voiced by Joan Rivers) in Mel Brooks' sci-fi spoof Spaceballs.

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    1. True, I had neglected to mention that. It's funny giving a performance and not having your voice be heard.

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