Wild Bill Hickok……..this was my immediate impression when my wife Heather, first introduced us. Long white hair and beard, a big, broad, commanding presence and a booming, authoritative baritone voice belied the gentle interior that was at the heart of this man. People often use the term, “bigger than life”, and Robert Easton towered above almost everyone, literally and figuratively.
Genius. Everyone has heard this word used all too casually, too often and not always completely merited by the individual who is accorded this unique status. I have encountered only a handful of true geniuses in my life and he was bona fide. As befitting his nature, his genius was only matched by his humanity, compassion and keenly perceptive eye, ever observant of human nature and life’s frailties.
Matchless among dialecticians, he was brilliant, a linguistic giant and a legend and as people are fond of saying in his spiritual homeland of the U.K., he was a “one-off”. Occasionally, his reserved and stoic demeanor evidenced his strong mid-western roots, which was sharply counterbalanced by his extroverted, fearless approach to his work.
These accomplishments alone would be enough on anyone’s C.V. but does not even take into account the enormously rich variety of roles that he undertook as a prolific character actor. Comedy to drama, were all easily within his broad range and he was utterly convincing in any “suit of clothes”. His august presence, commanding voice and complete, naturally nuanced mastery over language was like watching a great musician or painter at work.
Although Robert was American, his beloved wife June was British and his roots with the U.K. went very deep. He seemed to know every dialect and sub-dialect of the British Isles and could bring any of them forth with astonishing ease. If you asked him for a Lincolnshire accent, he would say “What region, what year?” And not just the dialects – he knew the relevant slang and figures of speech, which gave every actor he coached, an informed authority. He taught many established and internationally recognized British, European, Australian and American actors, often coaching them on regional dialects from within their native country.
Even more than his vast and fabled library, was the astonishing repository of information, accompanied by a deep, wide ranging and searching intelligence, which resided in that enormous brain and steel trap memory. It was the richness of detail that transformed this storehouse of knowledge from being a mere human database to a riveting journey through history, literature, art, science and a myriad of other subjects that comprised the Library of Congress in his head. His recall of historical and biographical facts and items of general knowledge, not to mention his mastery of every dialect known to man and woman, appeared to be photographic. It was simply staggering and it hardly seemed possible that one man could know so much. In the realm of world dialects, there was no one whom I knew of or ever met, who approached the intellectual, acrobatic virtuosity and deep understanding of language and linguistics that this man possessed. He was a masterful and peerless artist.
Many of his “students” went on to Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG award winning performances because of their work with him. The list of over 4000 artists that he coached spoke eloquently, to the respect and esteem in which his fellow actors and the film industry held him. These names comprised a multitude of legendary and well known actors and many other lesser known but nonetheless gifted, hard working artists, that he coached during the course of his illustrious and colorful 66 year career. Charlton Heston said in his autobiography, “If there is one person in Hollywood who should be cloned, it is Bob Easton.” He was the Jascha Heifetz of linguistics and there will never be another like him.
However, even after his lengthy and difficult hospital stays, he was determined to go back to work; coaching, writing and performing. He faced countless physical obstacles with grace, dignity and the heart of a lion, undoubtedly owing to his strong, evolved spiritual core. Despite all his health setbacks, his powerful spirit remained determined and unbowed. Regardless of the challenges and difficulties of his last three years, his martini-dry sense of humor, razor sharp wit, kindness, warmth and open nature never abandoned him and his mental acuity remained undiminished until the end.
He was a gentleman, possessed of the charm and grace of the old south and his living-by-example sustained and inspired many, many people around him, both personally and professionally. I’m certain his beloved and devoted wife June was looking down on him, delighted to see him continuing to be so loved, appreciated and thriving once again in this world.
I consider myself lucky enough to have known him. I relished sitting around with him, discussing literature, art, philosophy, science, politics, history and a vast range of disparate topics, always coming away knowing something new. And I am deeply honored to be have been able to call Robert my father-in-law and my friend and eternally grateful to him for immeasurably enriching my life, Heather’s life and so many others, known and unknown to him but most importantly, for making the world such a better place, for his being in it.
You are loved, admired, respected and appreciated and what more can someone ask? You will be missed but you will never be forgotten.
Doane Perry – Dec. 2011
“……And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” W.S.