EXPIRED: 07/29/10 – Lorene Yarnell, 66, met her husband to be, Robert Shields, in the strangest possible place.
She was a dancer and he was a mime on the acid-influenced Sid and Marty Krofft, show “Fol-de-Rol.” Think of it as a puppet & variety show with weird D-list actors all set in the weird carnival like atmosphere of a Renaissance Fair. Howard Cosell was the narrator and the cast included Mickey Rooney, Ricky Nelson, Cyd Charisse, Totie Fields, Yma Sumac and Ann Sothern as the Queen.
With a menagerie like that it was no wonder Yarnell gravitated to good-looking Shields.
Yarnell had some experience in Hollywood. She had danced on dancer on “The Carol Burnett Show,” “The Dean Martin Show” and other variety shows popular in the early 70’s.
Shields on the other hand was a mime who had studied under Marcel Marceau, and was working on the street in San Francisco. Yarnell was smitten. And after “Fol-de-Rol” was cancelled (was there any question?) she followed her new boyfriend back to the City by the Bay.
He taught her to mime, and the two took to the streets – starting a mini revolution of street performers wearing white facepaint and annoying passers-by.
In October 1972, they got married in mime get-up in a pantomimed ceremony in Union Square, which included snake charmers, belly dancers, clowns fire eaters, and more mimes than anyone would ever care to see.
The press picked up the story and they became more popular as a team, eventually popular enough to try their act in Hollywood.
Regular slots on “The Mac Davis Show” and “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour” got them their own prime time show by 1977.
Let me repeat. Thirty years ago, network executives thought America wanted to endure 30 minutes of mime once a week for their entertainment pleasure. Well, as a summer replacement tryout, anyway.
America loved them. Their specialty was robots, long before Michael Jackson did the moonwalk, Shields and Yarnell created a robot couple called Clinkers, known for their animatronic ability to keep from blinking their eyes. They were a hoot.
So the network, CBS, renewed their contract in 1978. And then ABC put “Laverne & Shirley” up against them. “The Shields and Yarnell Show” lasted just 2 more months before it was unceremoniously yanked.
The couple did some failed Broadway shows and some guest stints on the Tonight Show, Las Vegas, that kinda thing. But the magic was over. They divorced in 1986.
Yarnell’s solo shot was when she played the robot Dot Matrix in the 1987 Mel Brooks movie “Spaceballs“. Joan Rivers supplied the voice. When your career comes down to that, why bother?
In 1998 she met and married Bjorn Jansson and moved to Norway, occasionally returning to the U.S. to reunite with her ex-husband to do mime to pay the bills. She died of a ruptured aneurysm while peacefully watching TV with Bjorn one night in their living room.
Let’s hope they weren’t watching re-runs of “Laverne & Shirley.”