It would have been pretty darn difficult for actress Dina Merrill to have ever pulled off playing a commoner on stage, film or TV. She just had too much class. The epitome of poise and glamour, the New York-born socialite and celebrity was born in 1923, the daughter of E.F. Hutton, the financier and founder of the Wall Street firm which bears his name, and heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post of the Post cereal fortune. Although Dina made elaborate use of her upbringing over the decades, she handled it all positively and graciously, without tabloid incident. Instilling these same refined credentials into her characters. She originally did not intend to pursue acting. After studying at George Washington University, she suddenly dropped out after only a year (to the chagrin of her disapproving parents) after sensing a strong desire to perform. Enrolling at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and apprenticed in summer stock in the early 1940s before reaching Broadway with “The Mermaids Singing” (1945). After nearly a decade of theater roles and taking some time off to raise 2 children (her first husband was Stanley Rumbough, Jr., an heir to the Colgate toothpaste fortune), Dina finally made her official film debut with a smart and stylish support role in the Spencer Tracy / Katharine Hepburn vehicle Desk Set (1957). With charm to spare, she continued in her same upper-crust vein playing some version of the model wife, or socialite maven in her many posh but hardly challenging outings. Some of Dina’s more noticeable roles came with Operation Petticoat (1959) with the equally classy Cary Grant, BUtterfield 8 (1960), starring Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Harvey, and The Young Savages (1961) opposite Burt Lancaster. Following her divorce to Rumbough after 20 years, she married handsome actor Cliff Robertson in 1966. The pair had one daughter and were a popular Hollywood fixture for nearly 20 years before they, too, ended up divorced. With her film career on the wane, Dina gravitated toward the usual TV guest spots, and went on to co-star on Broadway with the drama “Angel Street” (1975) and the revamped musical “On Your Toes” (1983). In 1989 Dina married actor and investment banker Ted Hartley. Together they bought RKO Studios and renamed it RKO Pavilion. He serves as chairman while she served as vice chairperson and creative director. The studio produced such popular efforts as Milk & Money (1996) and the remake of Mighty Joe Young (1998).
Admired for her tireless philanthropic contributions, she was a moderate Republican (vice chair of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition), and an active lobbyist for women’s health issues. Dina also devoted much time working for the disadvantaged, particularly for the New York City Mission Society. Still active, an avid tennis and golf player as she approached age 90, the ever-glamorous Dina appeared most recently in a summer stock production of “Only a Kingdom” (2004) and continued to appear in occasional movie and television productions, until her death.
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