Dina Merrill, East Hampton Legend

Actress and philanthropist, 93, returned to place she was said to love most
Dina Merrill, left, with Roy and Frieda Furman at a 1992 benefit for the New York chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.

Dina Merrill, the actress and philanthropist whose own life story was at least as engaging as those of the women she portrayed in more than 25 Hollywood films, died on Monday at her oceanfront house on Highway Behind the Pond in East Hampton. In declining health with a form of dementia for a number of years, she had returned last Thursday to the place she was said to love the most. She was 93.

Nedenia Marjorie Hutton was born on Dec. 9, 1923, the only daughter of E.F. Hutton, an investment broker, and Marjorie Merriweather Post, an heiress whose winter residence, Mar-a-Lago, was purchased in 1985 and converted to a private club by Donald J. Trump.

Having enrolled at George Washington University, she dropped out to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, dreaming of becoming an actress. Her father did not approve, and she chose to use the last name Merrill, as in Merrill Lynch — a competing Wall Street firm — at the beginning of her career.

As a young woman, Ms. Merrill, a blue-eyed blonde, modeled for Vogue magazine and had a small role in the 1945 production of “The Mermaids Singing” on Broadway. She gave up acting after marrying Stanley M. Rumbough Jr. in 1946. Years later, in a press interview, Ms. Merrill said she had turned down a seven-year film contract and a picture with Clark Gable.

According to their daughter, Nina Rumbough Roosenburg, who also spends time in East Hampton, her parents were drawn here by the lifestyle and facilities at the Maidstone Club. In 1957, they built the house her mother was to love for the next 60 years, a one-story California contemporary that was not in keeping with local tradition. Although she had not played sports as a child, Ms. Merrill excelled as an adult at tennis, golf, and skiing, her daughter said. She won the women’s Drew Cup at the Maidstone, while her husband won the men’s Herrick Cup, and they played mixed doubles at the French Open.

“Yes, she was glamorous, and beautiful, and social, but she did not live a fancy life,” Ms. Roosenburg said. “The strongest thing that I have taken away from her is her incredible work ethic.” With hard work and dedication, her mother accomplished many things, she said, from leading Hollywood roles to a fine cutting garden in East Hampton.

The couple split in 1963, after a tragic boating accident in Gardiner’s Bay that claimed the life of their son, David Post Rumbough, at the age of 23. Ms. Merrill’s second marriage, to the actor Cliff Robertson in 1966, lasted for 19 years.

Among the films for which she was noted are “Butterfield 8,” “Operation Petticoat,” “Caddyshack II,” and “The Sundowners.” She finally starred on Broadway, in “Angel Street,” in 1975 and later in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.” She starred on TV in “What Made Sunny Run,” hosted a 1987 series called “Décor,” and appeared on television some 100 times.

Ms. Merrill and Ted Hartley, who survives, were married in 1989. As C.E.O. of the RKO Corporation, he produced the film “Milk and Honey,” in which she had the leading role. It premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 1996.

 Most notably in East Hampton, Ms. Merrill was committed to Guild Hall, which presented her with a Lifetime Achievement in the Arts award in 2011 and recognized her dedication by naming its lobby, theater, and other theatrical areas the Dina Merrill Pavilion.

Among the charitable organizations Ms. Merrill worked with were the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, which she founded after her son David was diagnosed with the disease at 13; the New York Mission Society, and Southampton Hospital, whose summer fund-raising gala she chaired in 1976. She was a founding board member of ORBIS, an international organization dedicated to saving sight worldwide, and served on the boards of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, the Paley Media Center, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.   With Mr. Hartley, she created the international Hartley-Merrill Prize for Screenwriting and the Story Project. A liberal Republican, she also served as president of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition.

In addition to her husband and daughter, Ms. Merrill is survived by a son, Stanley M. Rumbough of Greenwich, Conn., a stepson, Philippe Hartley, who lives in California, six grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, and two step-great-grandchildren. Her daughter with Mr. Robertson, Heather, died of cancer in 2007.