Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Godspeed Dina Merrill

Dina Merrill, the heiress who made a career as an actress appearing in such films as Operation Petticoat (1959) and BUtterfield 8 (1960) and such TV shows as Batman and The Virginian, died on May 22 2017 at the age of 93.

Dina Merrill was born Nedenia Marjorie Hutton on December 29 1924 to stock broker E. F. Hutton and Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Her maternal grandfather was Post Cereals founder C. W. Post. Her father had wanted her to become a lawyer and to later run for Congress, but Dina Merrill's heart was set on acting. She attended George Washington University, but dropped out after a year to enrol in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. While training for acting she made her living modelling clothes for Vogue. In a 1979 interview she explained, "It never occurred to me to ask my father or mother to pay for something they didn’t believe in. My ambitions were my own—not exactly the ones they had for me." Miss Merrill took her stage name from Charles E. Merrill, co-founder of Merrill Lynch. She made her debut on Broadway in 1945 in The Mermaids Singing.

In 1946 she married Colgate-Palmolive heir Stanley M. Rumbough, Jr., and she spent much of the next ten years raising her children. When she made her television debut in 1955 in an episode of Four Star Playhouse, she was 32 years old. While Dina Merrill started her acting career relatively late, she found success fairly swiftly. In the late Fifties she guest starred on Playwrights '56, The Phil Silvers Show, Climax!, Playhouse 90, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, and The DuPont Show of the Month. She made her film debut in Desk Set in 1957. She appeared in the films A Nice Little Bank That Should Be Robbed (1958), A Nice Little Bank That Should Be Robbed (1958), Don't Give Up the Ship (1959), Operation Petticoat (1959), BUtterfield 8 (1960), and The Sundowners (1960).

The Sixties saw Dina Merrill make frequent guest appearances on television. She played Shame's accomplice Calamity Jan in three episodes of Batman. She also guest starred on such shows as Dr. Kildare, The Dick Poweel Theatre, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Burke's Law, Rawhide, The Rogues, Daniel Boone, Daktari, Bonanza, Run for Your Life, and Mission: Impossible. She continued to appear in films, including such movies as The Young Savages (1961), Twenty Plus Two (1961), The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963), I'll Take Sweden (1965), and Aru heishi no kake (1970).

In the Seventies Miss Merrill appeared in the films Running Wild (1973), Throw Out the Anchor! (1974), The Meal (1975), The Greatest (1977), A Wedding (1978), and Just Tell Me What You Want (1980). She continued to work a good deal in television, appearing on such shows as The Virginian, Medical Centre, The F.B.I., Night Gallery, Cannon, Marcus Welby, M.D., Ellery Queen, Hawaii Five-O, Quincy M.E., and The Love Boat. She appeared on Broadway in Angel Street.

In the Eighties she appeared in the films Anna to the Infinite Power (1983), Twisted (1986), Caddyshack II (1988), and Caddyshack II (1988). She guest starred on the shows Tales of the Unexpected and Hotel. She was a regular on the short-lived show Hot Pursuit. She appeared on Broadway in
On Your Toes.

In the Nineties Dina Merrill guest starred on the shows Murder, She Wrote; The Nanny; Roseanne; and Vengeance Unlimited. She appeared in the films True Colours (1991), The Player (1992), Suture (1993), Open Season (1995), Milk & Money (1996), Mighty Joe Young (1998), and Meeting Genevieve (2000). In the Naughts she guest starred on the TV show 100 Centre Street. She appeared in the films Shade (2003) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (2009).

In addition to acting, Dina Merrill also did a good deal of humanitarian work. She worked for the New York City Mission Society. She was also one of the founders of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. She was a  founding trustee of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Centre and she served as one of the early directors of the Paley Centre for Media.

Dina Merrill was both a remarkable woman and a great actress. Heir to two of the biggest fortunes in the United States, she made her own way as an actress. And while she was born to wealth, she also gave a good deal back to society. As an actress she was very talented. It was certainly true that many of her roles were quite similar to her in real life. She played many beautiful, sophisticated, high society women throughout her career. That having been said, she could play a number of other roles. In Desk Set she played Sylvia Blair, a mere reference desk clerk. In Operation Petticoat she played one of her more famous roles, that of Army nurse Second Lieutenant Barbara Duran. Of course, for whole generations of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers she might be best remembered as Calamity Jan on Batman. A rough and tumble cowgirl, Calamity Jan was as far from a socialite as one could get. What is more, Miss Merrill played her with real zest. Of course, she was very good at playing high society types. One of her more famous roles was that of Emily Liggett, wife of executive Weston Liggett, in BUtterfield 8. In The Courtship of Eddie's Father she played rich socialite Rita Behrens, one of the women vying for Eddie's father. Dina Merrill had an enormous amount of talent that allowed her to play roles close to her real life (rich, high society types) or roles far from her real life (Calamity Jan).

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