Dina Merrill, actress and scion of two of America’s richest families, died today at her home in East Hampton, N.Y. Merrill remained a constant presence on the New York social scene and spent decades as a philanthropist and fundraiser for charities. She was a style icon in a time gone by.
Her parents were Edward F. Hutton, co-founder of the stock brokerage firm, and breakfast foods heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Nedenia Marjorie Hutton was born into vast wealth. Her family’s Manhattan apartment had 66 rooms, and their Long Island home had 59. Their sprawling South Florida home was Mar-a-Lago.
In 1973, Merrill’s mother bequeathed Mar-a-lago in her will to the National Park Service, with the wish that it could be used for state visits or as a “Winter White House”. But due to the costs of maintaining the property exceeding the funds provided by Post it was returned to the Post Foundation by an Act of Congress in 1981.
In 1985, Mar-a-Lago was purchased by Donald Trump and the family maintains private quarters in a separate area of the house and grounds. Since becoming President, Trump has frequently stayed there, referring to it as the “Southern White House”.
Merril’s father called her a “fool” for wanting to be an actress and those in “the business” always wondered why she just didn’t buy a studio instead of bothering to tryouts for film roles.
In 1966, she wed actor Cliff Robertson, who won an Academy Award for his leading performance in “Charly” (1968). Merrill’s wealth (over $5 billion!) allowed her the freedom to years without work and put aside some truly awful reviews. She resembled Grace Kelly but critics said that is where the similarity ended.
Merrill sat for years on the board of her father’s Wall Street investment firm and also helped raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation (son David was diabetic) and the New York City Mission Society, which helps disadvantaged youths. She also was a trustee of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, and she helped lead an abortion rights coalition within the GOP.
Reflecting on her heritage, she told A/P in 1988:
“I was very fortunate that I did have everything I wanted handed to me on a silver platter, so to speak. But I also had good training from both parents about the work ethic, about the fact that I was lucky, as they were. And that a lot of that had to be put back into the world, to help other people get a start and to be fortunate, too, in their way.”
Dina Merrill was 93.
(via Washington Post)