NEW YORK (Reuters) - Patrician beauty Dina Merrill, the daughter of a Wall Street titan and a cereal heiress who became a successful actress in films such as “BUtterfield 8” and was also a prominent socialite, businesswoman and philanthropist, died on Monday. She was 93.
Merrill’s death from heart failure at her home in East Hampton, New York, was confirmed on Tuesday by Ted Hartley, her third husband with whom she bought the venerable RKO Pictures in 1989.
As the daughter of wealthy Wall Street financier E.F. Hutton and Post Cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, opportunities abounded for Merrill. In her childhood, she and her family wintered at their Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, the same sprawling property that President Donald Trump bought in 1985 and turned into a private club 10 years later.
But she left college in Washington after one year and moved to New York to study drama. She supported herself and worked her way through drama school as a model for Vogue magazine.
Elegantly good looking, she landed significant roles in high-profile films. She played a woman with a cheating husband in “BUtterfield 8” (1960) with Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Harvey, and the wife of a crusading district attorney played by Burt Lancaster in “The Young Savages” (1961).
Merrill appeared in “Desk Set” (1957) with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, “Don’t Give Up the Ship” (1959) with Jerry Lewis, “Operation Petticoat” (1959) with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis, “The Sundowners” (1960) with Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum, “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1963) with Glenn Ford and “I’ll Take Sweden” (1965) with Bob Hope.
She said it was her dislike of the constraints of upper-class life that led her into acting.
“I loved the make-believe,” Merrill once told the Chicago Tribune. “And I still do. I love the part about it where you can be somebody else, and not be you all the time. It’s interesting to lead other people’s lives.”
She was married to Colgate toothpaste heir Stanley Rumbough from 1946 to 1966, divorcing him that year to marry Oscar-winning film actor Cliff Robertson. Merrill then took a decade off from films but made numerous TV appearances.
Her later films included “Caddyshack II” (1988), “True Colors” (1991) and “The Player” (1992).
She and Robertson divorced in 1986. She married Hartley, an investment banker and former actor, in 1989. They created a film and entertainment development and production company and in 1989 acquired RKO, with Merrill serving as creative chief. She also served as a director of a number of financial firms.
Merrill, who was born as Nedinia Hutton in New York City on Dec. 9, 1923, was known for her philanthropy. After one of her four children was diagnosed with diabetes, she helped start the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and was a long-time supporter of the New York City Mission Society, which helps the city’s poor.
She worked with ORBIS International, a flying eye hospital that teaches advanced eye care and surgical techniques around the world. She also served on the board of trustees of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
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.
Reporting by Will Dunham; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Frances Kerry