Dina Merrill, heiress and actress, dead at 93

Dina Merrill, the rebellious heiress who defied her super-rich parents to become an actress, often portraying stylish wives or "the other woman", has died.

She had reportedly been suffering from Lewy body dementia, and passed away in New York on Monday (22May17), according to the New York Times.

Once there, she landed roles in films including "Butterfield 8" opposite Elizabeth Taylor, "Desk Set" with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and in her later years, the comedy sequel 'Caddyshack II'.

Merrill was born in New York City on December 29, 1923.

Merrill then studied acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (the school would honor her with a lifetime achievement award in 2005). (The new last name was inspired by one of her father's Wall Street colleagues, Charles E. Merrill - the Merrill in Merrill Lynch). Merrill, who had the poised, aristocratic beauty of fellow blonde Grace Kelly, co-starred with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in "Operation Petticoat", Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in "The Sundowners" and Oscar victor Elizabeth Taylor in "Butterfield 8".

"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". Their sprawling South Florida showplace, Mar-a-Lago, was purchased in 1985 by businessman and future president Donald Trump, who converted it into a private club.

Merrill also was involved in Republican politics, heading a group called the Republican Majority for Choice that favored abortion rights in defiance of the party's anti-abortion stance.

Dina attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in NY, toiled in summer stock productions and, having adopted the stage name of Merrill, landed a small role on Broadway in John Van Druten's short-lived comedy "The Mermaids Singing" (1945). She also was seen on Hotel, Murder, She Wrote, The Nanny, Roseanne and numerous made-for-TV movies. Most of her estate went to Merrill and her two sisters. With her third husband, Ted Hartley, she bought what was left of RKO Pictures, but they didn't have much success. Her father was E.F. Hutton, founder of the stockbroker firm that bore his name.

"I didn't want to trade on the Hutton name", she explained.

"I loved the make-believe", she commented in 1993, "and I still do". I had the good luck to speak to her several times over the years and she was a delight. When her son David was diagnosed with diabetes, Dina founded the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, dedicated to diabetic research. She chaired the New York City Mission Society, which supports young people living in poverty.

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Miss Merill was predeceased by son, David, who died in a boating accident, and daughter, Heather, who died of cancer. She served for 12 years as presidential appointee to the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Dina Merrill is survived by her daughter Nedenia Colgate Rumbough, and son, Stanley Rumbough III.

"From the time I was 5, I knew I wanted to be an actress", Merrill said during the Guild Hall tribute, which also inaugurated the Dina Merrill Pavilion.

  • Salvatore Jensen