They invariably possess chiselled features, flawless grooming and sport a surname associated with an iconic dynasty.
They are American heiresses – those enchanting and often tragic females featured in bold typeface in the social diaries and exclusive guest lists of the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
I have spent considerable time exploring the lives of such women. Several years ago I spent a month huddled inside the New York Library researching one of my favorites – Barbara Hutton, the “five and dime” Woolworth heiress. This will be the subject of a fuller post in coming weeks, but my research did lead me to a cousin of Barbara Hutton, the intriuging Dina Merrill.
Born Nedenia Marjorie Hutton on 29 December, 1923, Dina was the only child of not one but two prominent American families – her father was the renowned financier Edward J. Hutton, whilst her mother was the daughter of Post Cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.
Dina spent much of her childhood at Mar-a-Lago estate (now owned by Presidential wannabe Donald Trump) in Florida’s exclusive Palm Beach.
Many of her formative years were also spent at sea, travelling rhe world on the family’s impressive yacht “Sea Cloud”, then the world’s largest privately owned sea vessel.
The Huttons furnished the yacht with museum quality furnishings, antiques and artworks. Marjorie Merriweather Post reportedly purchased an empty loft space in Brooklyn to determine the best layout for her furnishings prior to them being loaded on board.
From top left – Dina and her mother introduce the latest crew member on “SeaCloud”, a giant tortoise (named Jumbo by the young Dina) from the Galapagos Islands; the deck of the “Sea Cloud”; and no expense was spared in the yacht’s interiors which boasting priceless antiques and exquisite fixtures.
“Sea Cloud” included several innovative features such as the installation of a gigantic food freezer below deck, enabling the family to travel the globe uninterupted for months at a time. This included a 6 month sojourn with daughter Dina (and 72 staff).
Educated at the most proper “Miss Porters” school in Farmington, Connecticut, Dina dropped out of George Washington University to study at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Pursuing what many of the time saw as a somewhat unexpected life path, Dina went on to star in more than 20 motion pictures, described in 1959 as “Hollywood’s new Grace Kelly”.
Cool under pressure on the set of Mission Impossible (Series 4) – 1966
It is reported that Dina changed her name to “Merrill”, after “Merrill Lynch” the arch rival firm of her financier father.
Like many in her social circle, Dima married three times, including her first marriage to another heir – Stanley Rumbaush Jnr, an heir to the Colgate-Palmolive dynasty.
The fiscally blessed couple had three children but split in 1960.
Merrill went on to marry Oscar award winning actor Cliff Robertson in 1969 with whom he had one daughter, Heather.
After possibly establishing a clear “type”, Dina married another actor – Ted Harley – in 1989.
Her life has not been without tragedy – in 1973 her then 14 year olf son was killed in a boating accient in New York’s Long Island. In 2007 her daughter Heather Robertson tragically passed away from cancer, aged just 38.
Today Dina is a renowned philanthropist, a presidential appointee of the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and Vice President of New York’s Missionary Society.
Together with husband Tom, Mrs Harley (as she is now often referred) splits her time between her beloved Palm Beach, Southern California, and New York.
In 2013, at age 87, Dina launched her first art show featuring a collection of water-colour birds and flowers.
In an interview to promote the show she also provided an update on her childhood travelling companion “Jumbo” the tortoise – he is alive and well, residing at the Hawaiian Aquarium.
Image sources – imdb.com and seacloud.com