Dina Merrill, heiress and actress, dead at 93

Danny Woods
May 24, 2017

Merrill, who was born as Nedinia Hutton in New York City on December 9, 1923, was known for her philanthropy.

Her other onscreen credits include Operation Petticoat, The Young Savages, The Player, and The Sundowners.

Merrill was also a prolific film actress, appearing in more than 25 feature films.

When she chose to pursue acting, she didn't ask her parents for any money.

She was born Nedenia Hutton in New York City, and was drawn to the acting life at age 8, when she played an Indian in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta at Greenvale School.

At the time of her first movie role in Desk Set with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, she was well over 30 but ideal for socialite-wife-aristocrat roles.

"In Santo Domingo, when [Dominican Republic] President [Rafael] Trujillo came aboard for dinner", she told journalist George Turley, "my stepfather handed me a recording of their national anthem, and said, 'Take this to the engine room, and when we get to dessert, put it on, and we will all stand up and drink a toast.' And I, being the nasty 10-year-old I was, put it on with the appetizer course, the salad course, the fish course, the main course and the dessert".

With Hartley, she formed Pavilion Communications, which purchased RKO Pictures, for which she served as vice chairwoman.

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FILE - In this December 21, 1966 file photo, actress Dina Merrill, left, and actor Cliff Robertson appear at their wedding at the palatial estate of her mother, cereal heiress Marjorie Meriwether Post, in Washington.

Her father did not approve of her dreams to become an actress. (The new last name was inspired by one of her father's Wall Street colleagues, Charles E. Merrill - the Merrill in Merrill Lynch).

But she didn't always play the moneyed ice princess: cast against type, Merrill appeared with her second husband, Cliff Robertson, on the TV show Batman, as the villainous Calamity Jan.

When Merrill wasn't dazzling audiences on the screen, she was busy with business and philanthropic endeavors. In 1980, she joined the board of directors of the company bearing her father's name - E.F. Hutton.

But for the most part, her formative years were far from average. She also helped raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (son David was diabetic) and the New York City Mission Society, which helps disadvantaged youths. Another favorite cause was Orbis International, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting blindness and eye diseases in developing countries. They created a film and entertainment development and production company and in 1989 acquired RKO, with Merrill serving as creative chief.

In 2011, the Guild Hall Academy of the Arts in East Hampton honored Merrill with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

She is survived by her loving husband Ted Hartley, son Stanley Hutton Rumbough, and daughter Nedenia Rumbough Roosenburg and six grandchildren. On the theater organization's commemorative video, actor Michael Douglas described her allure, saying: "Dina became the icon for class and charm".

The actress took her step-sister's then-husband's advice and adopted the stage name Dina Merrill. And in 1979, she even deigned to set sail on the Love Boat, a vessel far from the Sea Cloud, but just as American, and just as iconic. "There are so many good stories".

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