Stingray actor, voice coach Robert Easton dies, 81

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Robert Easton

Robert Eas­ton

Char­ac­ter actor Robert Eas­ton, known as the “Henry Hig­gins of Hol­ly­wood” for teach­ing dialects to such lumi­nar­ies as Charl­ton Hes­ton and Anne Hath­away, died Fri­day at his Toluca Lake, Cal­i­for­nia home. He was 81.

While liv­ing in Britain, the Milwaukee-born Eas­ton voiced Lieu­tenant George Lee “Phones” Sheri­dan and Sur­face Agent X-2-Zero in the 1964 Gerry Ander­son Pro­duc­tions puppet-animated series Stingray. He had numer­ous other voice roles in the series, as well.

He was a mem­ber of the voice cast of Ralph Bakshi’s 1973 fea­ture film Heavy Traf­fic. In addi­tion, he had a live-action role as the store pro­pri­etor in Disney’s partly ani­mated 1977 movie Pete’s Dragon.

Eas­ton knew a huge range of for­eign and Amer­i­can regional accents. He taught actor Robert Duvall a Vir­gin­ian accent for his role as Con­fed­er­ate com­man­der Robert E. Lee in the movie Gods and Gen­er­als sev­eral years ago.

They said, ‘We want Vir­ginia accents,’” Duvall remem­bered in an inter­view Wednes­day. “Bob said, ‘Which one? There are 12 dis­tinct accents, from the Pied­mont to the ocean.’ He knew them all.

He was a won­der­ful man, a very unique per­son­al­ity, and a mas­ter at his craft.”

He was born Robert Eas­ton Burke on Novem­ber 23, 1930. When he was 7, his par­ents split up. He and his mother moved to San Antonio.

At age 14, he toured the United States with the cast of young geniuses on the pop­u­lar radio pro­gram Quiz Kids. The young 6’4″ per­former was get­ting Hol­ly­wood roles by 18, usu­ally play­ing coun­try hicks due to his heavy Texas accent. He was on The Burns and Allen Show, Father Knows Best, The Jack Benny Show, The Red Skel­ton Show, Wagon Train, Rawhide and Gunsmoke.

Wor­ried that he would be type­cast, Eas­ton widened his range of accents and learned var­i­ous regional speech patterns.

After mar­ry­ing June Bet­tine Grim­stead in 1961, he moved with her to her native Eng­land and started study­ing pho­net­ics at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege in London.

He found a way to spell things,” said For­est Whitaker, whom he taught to speak like Idi Amin. “We estab­lished our own language.”

Between his coach­ing jobs, Eas­ton taught at UCLA and USC. His movies included Paint Your Wagon, Pet Sematary II and Pri­mary Col­ors. In 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undis­cov­ered Coun­try, he por­trayed a Klin­gon judge.

I’m a great believer in the prin­ci­ple that there’s no wastage in the uni­verse,” Eas­ton told the Los Ange­les Times in 1992. “So when I work with some­body who is for­eign who’s try­ing to lose their accent, I can always give their old dialect to some­body else.”

Pre­de­ceased by his wife in 2005, Robert Eas­ton is sur­vived by his daugh­ter, Heather Woodruff Perry, and a granddaughter.

A memo­r­ial ser­vice will be announced later.

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