Actress and philanthropist Dina Merrill, the scion of twin fortunes who went on to a career as “Hollywood’s next Grace Kelly,” died at her home in East Hampton on Monday at age 93. She had lived on West Dune Lane for more than 55 years.
Her family said she had suffered from Lewy body dementia.
The patrician blonde had roles in more than 25 films including “Desk Set” (1957), “Operation Petticoat” (1959), “The Sundowners” and “BUtterfield 8” (both 1960), “The Young Savages” (1961), “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1963), “Anna to the Infinite Power” (1983), Robert Altman’s “A Wedding” (1978) and “The Player” (1992). Merrill appeared on more than 100 television programs ranging from “What’s My Line?” and “Password” to “Batman,” “Mission: Impossible,” “The Odd Couple,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “The Nanny” and “Roseanne.”
She had made her Broadway debut in a small role in “The Mermaids Singing” and went on to featured roles in the 1975 thriller “Angel Street” and the 1983 musical revival of “On Your Toes.” Her many summers performing at Guild Hall in East Hampton prompted the venue to name its theater and back-theater spaces the Dina Merrill Pavilion. Merrill was a founding trustee of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and an early director of the Paley Media Center. She served for 12 years on the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
She founded the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation after her son David had been diagnosed with the disease. Merrill was also a goodwill ambassador for Orbis International, whose Flying Eye Hospital fights blindness in the developing world, and a board member of both the Population Resource Council and the pro-abortion rights Republican Majority for Choice Committee.
Born Nedenia Marjorie Hutton in Manhattan on Dec. 29, 1923, she was the only child of Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband, Wall Street investment broker Edward Francis “E.F.” Hutton. Her stage name was borrowed in part from famous stockbroker Charles E. Merrill, a distant relative.
After growing up in palatial homes that included the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, now President Donald Trump’s weekend White House, Merrill enrolled at George Washington University. A year later she left to enroll at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, which honored her with a lifetime achievement award in 2005.
Merrill was married three times. In 1946, she wed Colgate-Palmolive heir and businessman Stanley M. Rumbough Jr., with whom she had daughter Nedenia Colgate Rumbough and sons Stanley Hutton Rumbough and David Post Rumbough, who died at 23 in a boating accident in Gardiner’s Bay.
Shortly after divorcing in 1966, Merrill married future Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson. Their only child, writer-producer-actress Heather Merriweather Robertson, died of ovarian cancer in 2007 at 38. After their divorce, Merrill wed producer Ted Hartley in 1989. The following decade, their company, Pavilion Communications, acquired a majority interest in RKO Pictures and went on to coproduce such films as “Mighty Joe Young” (1998) and “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” (2009).
Merrill is survived by her husband, children Nedenia and Stanley, and six grandchildren.