Before Ivanka Trump, Dina Merrill was Palm Beach’s first blond princess


Nedenia Marjorie Hutton was the first blond princess of Mar-a-Lago, the first beautiful little girl to sleep in the silver-leafed canopy bed of the nursery and study the rhymes written in the tiles of her bathroom.

Her parents, Marjorie Merriweather Post and E.F. Hutton, called her “Deenie.”

Deenie’s room later became Ivanka Trump’s room, and Deenie became “Dina Merrill” — an actress as beautiful and glamorous in the 1950s as Grace Kelly.

RELATED: A PEEK INSIDE MAR-A-LAGO

She was the very definition of “patrician good looks” — tall and slim, with features so stunning they were almost other-worldly.

Designer Steven Stolman remembers the power of her perfection.

“One of my first assignments as a PR lackey at Albert Nipon, the great American dress house, was to manage a photo shoot of Dina Merrill in one of her many Nipon dresses,” he recalls. “I can honestly say that when she came down the stairs of her United Nations Plaza apartment, she took my breath away.”

RELATED: She grew up at Mar-a-Lago and later feuded with its owner, Donald Trump.

In later years, she and her daughter Heather would shop in Stolman’s stores on Worth Avenue and in Southampton.

His admiration of Miss Merrill, who died Monday at 93, never dimmed.

“God, was she chic!”

“The magic doors opened…”

She also had a sense of art and whimsy, like her mother.

I interviewed Miss Merrill in 2001 after visiting Hillwood, her mother’s 36-room mansion in Washington D.C.

Here, Mrs. Post displayed her treasures…and expressions of her personality.

RELATED: a gallery of photos of Dina Merrill

The only child of cereal magnate C.W. Post, Marjorie was an amazing mix of practicality and passion.

She stood straight as a ramrod, rarely shed a tear and was as organized as a general… yet, she was every bit the girly girl.

Her bedroom at Hillwood is so French and so fancy that Marie Antoinette would have felt right at home.

In fact, Mrs. Post owned some of Marie’s treasures, including a pair of diamond earrings, a chair and a rolltop desk that is believed to have been made for the doomed queen. This intricately carved desk has dozens of drawers and secret compartments and an infinite amount of mystery.

When Deenie was a child, she would sit on her mother’s lap and imagine all of the love letters that had been hidden in the desk over the centuries.

Deenie’s childhood winters were spent at Mar-a-Lago, the estate her mother built in Palm Beach a few years after her birth. By the time her mother bought Hillwood in 1955, Miss Merrill was a Hollywood star and the mother of toddlers.

When she’d visit Hillwood with the kids, Dina would get an earful from mom: “Don’t let them run around and break things!”

Imagine what a 2-year-old could do to a tea set designed in 1762 for one of Catherine the Great’s lovers.

“She didn’t relate to little children,” Miss Merrill said in a phone interview from her Los Angeles home (she also had an apartment in Palm Beach). “When I was a tiny person, she wasn’t very hands-on. But by age 8 or 9, the magic doors opened, and I realized what a wonderful mother I had.”

The magic doors … to art galleries, museums, the wonders of the world.

“Any place she was interested in that she hoped you also would be interested in,” Miss Merrill said. “Mother wanted to educate us, and she was a very interesting and interested person.”

Mrs. Post’s wanderlust may have stemmed from her early adventures with her father, a quirky but dynamic salesman and inventor. He created Postum, a coffee substitute, in 1895, and he used this molasses-flavored drink to launch the Post cereal empire.

When Post killed himself in May 1914, he left his 27-year-old daughter $11 million — plus a good business head and boundless curiosity.

“Life with her was absolutely magical,” Miss Merrill said. “I thought everyone lived like that until I grew up.”

Turns out, not even other heiresses lived like Marjorie. She expanded the Post business, changing the name to General Foods. By the time she died at age 86 in 1973, her fortune had grown to $117 million.

“I am not the richest woman in the world,” she once said. “There are others better off than I am. The only difference is that I do more with mine. I put it to work.”

Mrs. Post’s business acumen wasn’t lost on Donald Trump, who bought Mar-a-Lago from Miss Merrill and her half-sisters and once wrote that Miss Merrill had inherited her mother’s beauty but not her brains.

Merrill responded with a chuckle: “How lovely. He’s a charming man, isn’t he?”

She never liked Trump much after that, and it dimmed her fondness for Mar-a-Lago.

She continued to visit Hillwood, where her mother’s passions were on display.

“I had many beautiful things…”

Marjorie Merriweather Post once confided to a friend, “I had many beautiful things, but choosing a husband, I never had much luck.”

Post chose four husbands. One cheated on her with other women. One cheated on her with other men. After her divorces, she took back her maiden name but let the grudges go. If you look closely around Hillwood, you’ll spot a picture of three of the four husbands on display somewhere.

You’ll also see several portraits of Mrs. Post, and hundreds of pictures of Deenie and the rest of her children and family. Their faces mingle on the walls with other timeless beauties, including a 1790 painting of Marie Antoinette.

Inside Mrs. Post’s closet, next to the T-strap shoes with sturdy 2-inch heels, is a Cartier necklace with a golfball-sized amethyst.

Just a bauble. Almost as colorful as the view outside her bedroom window: A French formal garden leading to a rose garden. Mrs. Post’s ashes are buried here, in the base of a pink granite monument. The inscription suits her: “All my hopes rest in me.”

Miss Merrill had three husbands — Stanley M. Rumbough Jr., who lives in Palm Beach; the actor Cliff Robertson, who died in 2011 and Ted Hartley, who survives her.

She loved nature, like her mother, and painted songbirds in watercolor in her later years.

And she loved to explore the world.

“I have a wandering foot like she did,” Miss Merrill said. “I love to travel … Hong Kong, Bali, New Guinea.”

She was an avid collector, too — but her obsession was a little more affordable than her mom’s passion for Faberge eggs.

Dina Merrill — heiress, model, actress, artist, princess of Mar-a-Lago — combed the globe for one thing:

“Nature’s artwork … seashells.”



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