Robert Easton, 81, a character actor whose command of a vast array of foreign and American regional accents led to a flourishing second career as a dialect coach to Hollywood stars such as Charlton Heston and Anne Hathaway, died Dec. 16 at his home in Los Angeles.
He was often called the Henry Higgins of Hollywood. A consummate phoneticist like Higgins, the exacting speech tutor in the musical My Fair Lady, Mr. Easton taught Forest Whitaker the African inflections of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and Ben Kingsley the gruff tones of a New York mobster. He helped Arnold Schwarzenegger turn his Austrian accent into Russian English and Liam Neeson's Irish brogue into a Kentucky drawl. He once coached Heston from a bathtub in Munich, helping the actor pronounce his lines like a Scot.
Born in Milwaukee, Mr. Easton developed an awareness of speech as a child struggling to tame a stutter. When he was 7, his parents split up and he moved with his mother to San Antonio. Noticing how Texans tend to draw out their speech, he trained himself to talk more slowly, which enabled him to control his stammer.
At 14, he auditioned for a spot on the popular radio program Quiz Kids and toured with the cast of child prodigies. By 18, he was winning parts in Hollywood, mainly playing country bumpkins because of his Texas drawl.
Fearful of being typecast as the slow-witted deputy or hillbilly cousin, he decided to work on different accents to broaden his opportunities.