Dina Merrill, the actor, businesswoman, and arts administrator of glamorous looks and aristocratic bearing, has died at age 93 at her residence in East Hampton, Long Island.
She was born into wealth as Nedenia Marjorie Hutton, the only child of businessman Edward Francis Hutton (founder of the E.F. Hutton company) and Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. She adopted her stage name from a relative.
During World War II, Merrill served as part of Moss Hart’s USO troupe, entertaining the troops in the Pacific. She subsequently made three appearances on Broadway, one at the beginning of her career, John Van Druten’s The Mermaids Singing in 1945 and two more at mid career: a 1975 revival of Angel Street , and a 1983 revival of Rodgers & Hart’s On Your Toes, in which she played ballet company manager Peggy Porterfield.
She was best known to the public for appearances in more than 25 feature films, including the movie adaptation of the Broadway play The Desk Set (1957), plus Operation Petticoat (1959), The Sundowners (1960), BUtterfield 8 (1960), The Young Savages (1961), The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963), and two Robert Altman films, A Wedding (1978) and The Player (1992).
Merrill appeared on more than 100 television shows including The Nanny; What’s My Line?; The Love Boat; Hawaii Five-O, Murder, She Wrote; The Odd Couple, Password; Mission: Impossible; Batman (as “Calamity Jan”); Bonanza; Rawhide; and The Magnificent Ambersons.
Merrill married three times. In 1946 she wed Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr. and had three children. In 1966 she married Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson, with whom she had a daughter.
As a businesswoman, Merrill served on the board of directors of E.F. Hutton Company and the board of Lehman Brothers. Merrill and her third husband, Ted Hartley, merged their company, Pavilion Communications, with the onetime radio and vaudeville powerhouse RKO to form RKO Pictures in the 1990s. She subsequently served as vice chairman of that company.
Among her charitable works, Merrill served as chairperson of the board and director emeritus for the New York City Mission Society. When her son David was diagnosed with diabetes, Merrill co-founded the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
Though she worked most of her career in film and TV, she stayed connected with the stage. She 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 as presidential appointee to the board of trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York, where she performed on stage for many summers. In her honor, Guild Hall named its theatre and backstage spaces the Dina Merrill Pavilion. Watch Guild Hall’s 2013 salute to Merrill at right.
She is survived by Hartley, son Stanley Hutton Rumbough, and daughter Nedenia Rumbough Roosenburg, and six grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, her family is asking that donations be made to several of her charities, including the O’Neill Theatre Foundation, at The Eugene O'Neill Theater Center, 305 Great Neck Road, Waterford, Connecticut.