"Robin Cousins", by Martha Lowder Kimball

Reviewed by Sandra Loosemore

The Robin Cousins biography is out. It's called simply "Robin Cousins" and is written by Martha Lowder Kimball, whom many will recognize as the co-author of "Zero Tollerance". While the Toller Cranston book was a zippy memoir told almost exclusively from Toller's own (often outrageous) point of view, the Robin Cousins book is a serious, well-researched biography, told from a more balanced and impersonal perspective. It's described as an "authorized biography" on the cover so it's probably reasonable to assume that Robin himself provided the overall direction for the book, but there are also quotes and insight from dozens of other people whose lives have touched Robin's at various times in his career.

As a result, there's something in this book for everybody, not just fans of Robin Cousins himself. Paul Wylie fans will find the section about Robin's years living with the Wylie family fascinating. There's a section about Robin's "rivalry" with Scott Hamilton at Landover. There are sections on his collaborations with Peggy Fleming, Rosalynn Sumners, Doug Mattis, Michael Chack, and Denise Biellmann. And there are numerous quotes from Toller Cranston.

I think that because much of Robin's work has involved touring or performing in Britain and Europe, the scope of his career will come as a surprise to many American skating fans. For example, I had not realized that Robin was responsible for two ambitious ice theatre tours in the mid-1980's, in the same tradition as the earlier Toller Cranston and John Curry skating companies, and predating the "Stars on Ice" tour in the US. By the time of the post-1994 pro skating boom, recurring knee problems had caused Robin to turn his focus away away from touring and competing, towards less visible roles as a choreographer and director. Again, I don't think most skating fans are aware of quite how much behind-the-scenes work he did for "The Cutting Edge" movie, or for touring productions such as the "Wizard of Oz" ice show. Finally, the book also has extended sections describing Robin's work in the musical theatre and his preparations for his roles in "Cats" and "The Rocky Horror Show" -- which included learning how to sing, dance, and act.

One minor flaw in the book is that certain aspects of Robin's life are apparently glossed over or sanitized. For example, there is basically nothing said about romantic relationships or love affairs, and the omission draws attention to itself because there is considerable space devoted to discussion of Robin's other personal relationships, such as his family life and several long-time friendships. It's unfortunate that precisely because the book provides absolutely no basis for speculation about Robin's love life, many readers probably will speculate about it. In a similar vein, readers might also find the book too endlessly laudatory, presenting an almost unbelievably cheerful and positive view of Robin's experiences and character. In contrast, much of "Zero Tollerance"'s charm came from Toller's straightforward treatment of his problems with depression, drugs, family bickering, and the like. Without becoming the focus of the story, it gave his self-portrayal a depth and realism that is somewhat lacking from the image we are given of Robin in this biography.

In spite of this, there's still plenty of "meat" in the book, and I can certainly recommend it. I found it to be an engrossing read.

"Robin Cousins" is being distributed directly by the author. There's a web page with ordering information at http://www.tls.net/robincousins/. It's 386 pages plus an index, and includes quite a few black and white photos and some of Robin's own line drawings.

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