Robert Easton, Actor, Renowned Dialect Coach and Television Academy Governor
Easton, who called himself the "Henry Higgins of Hollywood," helped numerous performers hone accents and dialects, including Gregory Peck, Robin Williams, Anne Hathaway and many others.
Robert Easton, an actor who, in addition to enjoying a thriving career as a performer, also achieved renown as a dialect coach for decades of Hollywood stars, and served as a governor of the Television Academy’s performers’ peer group, died December 16, 2011, at his home in Toluca Lake, California. He was 81.
According to news reports, Easton died of natural causes.
Easton, who often described himself as the “Henry Higgins of Hollywood,” had a command of numerous foreign and regional American accents, which he drew from to assist performers ranging from to Gregory Peck, whom he helped to speak like Nazi Josef Mengele in the film The Boys from Brazil; Jane Fonda, whom he assisted with Appalachian speech patterns for the television movie The Dollmaker; and Forest Whitaker, who worked with Easton on the accent for former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the film The Last King of Scotland.
He was born Robert Easton Burke in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on November 23, 1930, and acquired an affinity for speech as a child, in an effort to overcome a stutter. At age seven, after his parents’ marriage broke up, he moved with his mother to San Antonio, Texas. There, he recognized the manner in which the local denizens drew out their speech patterns, and discovered that, by articulating his words more slowly, he was able to control his stammer.
At 14, he auditioned for, and secured a position on, the popular radio program Quiz Kids, and toured the country with the cast of child prodigies. By 18, he was in Hollywood making a living as an actor. Many of his credits at the time included television roles in which he used his Texas drawl. They included such series as The Burns and Allen Show, Father Knows Best, The Jack Benny Show, The Red Skelton Show, My Little Margie, Wagon Train, Rawhide and Gunsmoke.
In an effort to avoid being limited to rural characters, he began to use his knack for mimicry to develop other accents, and eventually built a formidable array of dialects and inflections.
This process was abetted greatly by a period in London, home of his wife, June Grinstead. He studied phonetics at University College, and by the time he returned to the U.S. three yeas later, he had added a number of European accents to his arsenal.
When fellow actors learned of his skill, they turned to him for coaching when roles required a special accent. What began as a side business eventually became his principal focus.
Over the ensuing years, performers he worked with included Drew Barrymore, Robert Duvall, Anne Hathaway, Charlton Heston, Ken Kingsley, Liam Neeson, Laurence Olivier, Al Pacino, Natasha Richardson, Patrick Swayze, Robin Williams and many others.
Easton's other television projects included episodes of Get Smart and The Bionic Woman.
His feature film credits included The Red Badge of Courage, Primary Colors, The Beverly Hillbillies, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and The Giant Spider Invasion, for which he also wrote the screenplay.
Easton was active in the Television Academy for years. He was a member of the performers peer group executive committee for seven years — 1992-96 and 1998-99. In addition, he served as a governor of the performers peer group from 2000-2003.
He also advertised his services in the Academy’s official publication, Emmy magazine.
Easton’s wife died in 2005 after 44 years of marriage. He is survived by his daughter and a granddaughter.