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Shields was born in Los Angeles and graduated from North Hollywood High. At the age of 18, while working as a street mime and performing at the Hollywood Wax Museum, Shields was seen by Marcel Marceau, who offered Shields a full scholarship to his school of mime in Paris. His apprenticeship was short lived as he felt the need to develop his own style and pry mime loose from its artsy pedestal. Shields soon returned to California, working in Union Square, San Francisco.
Lorene Yarnell (also a native Angeleno) had become a tap dancer and actress in television shows including, Shindig!, The Carol Burnett Show, and off-Broadway musicals before she met Shields, in San Francisco.
She had a rare speaking role as Doctor Irene Janus and her notorious alter ego, "Formicida," on a guest appearance on the Wonder Woman series' which also featured her husband Robert Shields.
Yarnell later appeared as Claudine in a spectacular 1983 outdoor production of Can-Can at The Muny in St. Louis, starring Broadway's Judy Kaye, John Reardon, John Schuck, Beth Leavel and Lawrence Leritz, her dance partner, to excellent reviews. On film, Yarnell played Dot Matrix (body acting, with Joan Rivers doing the voice) in the 1987 Mel Brooks movie Spaceballs.
The Shields and Yarnell comedy act originated in their partnership. Their specialty was taking on the personae of robots, with many individual, deliberate motions (as opposed to normal smooth motion) stereotypical of robots and early animatronics, enhanced by their ability to refrain from blinking their eyes for long stretches of time. They called themselves The Clinkers.
Their dance and mime performances were featured in 1977 on their own CBS television comedy-variety program, The Shields and Yarnell Show. They appeared on 400 national television shows in the US, including The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Red Skelton Show, The Muppet Show (1979), and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. They performed in the unsuccessful Broadway musical production Broadway Follies in New York City, which closed after several performances. Career highlights included shows for two American Presidents and a command performance for Queen Elizabeth II, as well as a tour of China with comedian Bob Hope.
Shields and Yarnell were married in 1972 and divorced in 1986. Shields opened a jewelry and art business in Sedona, Arizona, while Yarnell remarried and moved to Norway. They reunited periodically to tour with their act.
In 2002, Shields met Laurie Burke, a singer-songwriter in Sedona, and the two were married on September 25, 2006. Burke was diagnosed with a brain tumor the next spring, and died April 25, 2007. Shields married Jennifer Griffiths in December 2009 at The Little Chapel of the West in Las Vegas, Nevada. The couple currently resides in Sedona, Arizona, where Shields creates paintings, sculptures, and jewelry design.