Chester’s brother in Gunsmoke was smarter than he looked and the actor who played him was a prodigy ‘Quiz Kid’ on the radio
Actor Robert Easton was also a master of accents and became one of the most prolific dialect coaches in Hollywood.
In the 1964 movie musical My Fair Lady, a phonetics professor named Henry Higgins bets that he can turn Audrey Hepburn’s cockney girl into a proper lady fit for high society. Higgins is a rigorous tutor, demanding the exact accent and inflections he needs to win the wager.
When some of Hollywood’s biggest stars needed to perfect a specific speaking style, they would often turn to one man: Robert Easton. The dialect coach was a master of accents. He was even called “the Henry Higgins of Hollywood.”
Easton’s eventual career in speech coaching was no accident. He grew up with a stutter and paid much closer attention to the way people talked than most kids. He was born in Wisconsin but moved to San Antonio when he was seven. The slower Texas drawl intrigued him and changing his speech pattern helped to get over the stutter.
He became so well-spoken, he toured the country on the popular radio show Quiz Kids throughout the 1940s. The program, which became a TV gameshow in the 1950s, involved a panel of high-IQ kids answering tough questions sent in my listeners.
Easton transitioned to acting in his twenties. He appeared in Mayberry in the episode “Irresistible Andy” and in Perry Mason “The Case of the Wrathful Wraith.”
His natural Texas inflection made him a perfect fit for Westerns. One of his first TV roles came in the early Gunsmoke episode “Magnus.” Easton played the title character, Chester’s wild and “uncivilized” brother.
When Magnus Goode comes to Dodge City for Christmas, Chester can’t help but worry he won’t fit in. Despite his backwoods ways, Magnus proves more than capable of handling himself in the city by the end of the good-natured episode.
Not wanting to be typecast as a hillbilly, Easton married an Englishwoman named June Grimstead and the two moved to London in the 1960s. Easton studied phonetics at University College and rediscovered his talent and ear for language.
When he returned to Hollywood, his speaking skills impressed costars so much he was able to start a side business as a dialect coach. It soon became his main gig, working with A-listers like Robin Williams, Patrick Swayze, Forest Whitaker and Robert Duvall.
Easton even worked outside of show business, helping a lawyer from New York who was struggling to win cases on the west coast. Easton coached the attorney to slow down and use a friendlier tone and sure enough, he fared better in front of California juries.