Character actor and Hollywood dialect coach Robert Easton, whose successes include teaching Forest Whitaker to speak like Idi Amin in the 2006 movie “The Last King of Scotland,” died of natural causes on Monday, Dec. 16, at his home in the San Fernando Valley. He was 81.
Whitaker won the Oscar for best actor for his performance in the film.
Easton was born in Milwaukee but lived in Texas for a time and attended the U. of Texas at Austin. As a young actor, Easton often played country bumpkins on TV because of his drawl. Fearing that he would be typecast, he worked on different accents and learned he could mimic regional speech patterns.
He earned dozens of credits on films and TV shows as a dialect or dialogue coach, becoming known as the Henry Higgins of Hollywood and working with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charlton Heston, Laurence Olivier, Liam Neeson, Dennis Hopper, Anne Hathaway, Ben Kingsley and Robert Duvall, among others.
Easton first began in showbiz in the 1940s on the radio show “Quiz Kids” as the one of the young, high-IQ competitors. He also appeared on other radio programs including “Fibber McGee and Molly” and “The Fred Allen Show.”
He made his first film appearance, uncredited, in 1949’s “Undertow”; by 1951 he earned his first credit as a dialect coach, on the film “Havana Rose.” Easton also earned dialect-coach credits on “The Molly Maguires,” “Scarface,” miniseries “North and South” and “Good Will Hunting.”
His movie credits as a thesp include “Paint Your Wagon,” “Pete’s Dragon,” “Working Girl,” “Pet Sematary II” and “Primary Colors.”
On television, he appeared on episodes of “Gunsmoke,” “Father Knows Best,” “The Munsters,” “The Beverly Hillbillies” (he later appeared in the bigscreen adaptation), “Petticoat Junction,” “Lost in Space,” “Perry Mason,” “Get Smart,” “Mod Squad” and “The Bionic Woman,” among many other programs. He had a regular stint as a voiceover actor on the animated series “Stingray” in 1964-65.
Easton’s wife June died in 2005. He is survived by a daughter and granddaughter.
(Associated Press contributed to this report.)