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A Lady With A Touch Of Shade

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I know it’s been a week packed with breaking news—two words which seem to be burned onto my television screen—but I have to ask: How did the wealthiest actress in the world die this week with hardly a ripple in the news?

We live in a society that seems to value money and celebrity more than anything, so it’s a mystery how this could happen. Consider a lady, and I do mean a lady, who had a net worth greater than Oprah, Beyonce and Cher—combined. Someone whose mother’s last name was Post, as in the Toasties, and whose father was E. F. Hutton. Someone who changed her last name, presumably because her father didn’t want her to become an actress, to the last name of her father’s greatest rival, Charles Merrill. As in Merrill Lynch. (Which is deliciously shady, don’t you think?)

And that is how Nedenia Hutton became Dina Merrill.

Since her parents didn’t support her decision to become an actress, Ms. Merrill supported herself as a model in her younger years. She met and married “my Marine” in 1946, putting her acting career on hold for eleven years, during which she had three children. Oh, and by the way, her “Marine” just happened to be the son of Elizabeth Colgate. As in toothpaste.

Ms. Merrill returned to acting in 1957 and spent the next 50 years as a working actress, a philanthropist and a businesswoman. She was on the board of directors of E. F. Hutton and Lehman Brothers. She was married to Cliff Robertson when he won his Oscar in 1969 for Charly, but I don’t think she herself was ever nominated for anything.

But, really, in a week crammed with new revelations about Trump and his flailing administration, what does Dina Merrill have to do with anything? Well, it’s just that she and her half-sisters happened to be the ones that sold Mar-a-Lago to Donald Trump. And that story, as reported in Vanity Fair, is worth repeating.

After seeing the property for the first time, Trump knew immediately that he wanted to buy it, and he offered the three daughters of Marjorie Merriweather Post $25,000,000 for the house, its furnishings and the 17 adjoining acres. At least, that’s what Mrs. Post’s former footman and later Trump’s butler, Anthony Senecal, said Trump told him.

When the sisters wanted more money, Trump decided to play hardball. He offered $2,000,000 for a beachfront lot directly in front of Mar-a-Lago and threatened to build a “hideous” house on it to block the view. (Of course, I’m fascinated to think what Trump would consider hideous.) Ultimately, the sisters sold the house to Trump for something less than $8,000,000.

Now we must consider that part of this story comes from Trump himself, and second-hand at that, and his relationship with the truth is suspect. That said, Trump did write of Dina Merrill that she was “arrogant and aloof. . . born with her mother’s beauty but not her brains.” When Ms. Merrill was asked about his description, she replied, “How lovely. He’s a charming man, isn’t he?” And, that’s how a WASP throws shade.

Now that she’s gone, maybe someone will write a biography of Dina Merrill. Maybe someone will update her Wikipedia page to include a filmography. Or maybe she’ll simply remain a classic beauty, underrated and understated, just as she was life.

If there is a heaven, and Ms. Merrill is there now, let’s face it. From she was, that would be a lateral move. At best.

Oh, and the winning number? Just over five. Billion.

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