Is there any sentiment quite so universal as the American detestation of mimes? I don’t mean Hollywood comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Harpo Marx or Buster Keaton, of course. People love them. I mean the artsy, Parisian, busking variety who “walk against the wind” and “scream inside a shrinking box” and “tug invisible ropes”. No audience member I’ve ever seen has seemed “wide-eyed with wonder” at such mortifying spectacles, as they are theoretically supposed to be. Usually they’re more bug-eyed with disbelief and indignation. There are few pleas in our criminal justice system offering acceptable grounds for murder; mime is one of them.
So, how, HOW was there ever a variety show green-lighted starring street mimes Robert Shields and Lorene Yarnell? On coast to coast, national television? I’ve never encountered anyone who could answer this question for me. And yet such a phenomenon did occur. After numerous appearances on The Tonight Show, Sonny and Cher, and Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert, Shields and Yarnell got their own CBS variety program in 1977. The fact is usually spoken of in hushed whispers, using the same tone we use when talking about ghost experiences or personal tales of alien abduction: “I’m not sure this thing really happened, and yet it seemed so VIVID at the time.”
But the proof is real; here’s a clip. Their thing was mostly a robot routine, and after all, it was the age when “doing the robot” was a thing. Perhaps that is why this thing accidentally happened:
For more on variety history (including tv variety), consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
For more on silent and slapstick film history see my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc