The Last Time I Saw Dina Merrill

The last time I saw Dina, 2012

I first visited East Hampton in the early 1980s with a girlfriend, singer actress Christine Andreas, from NYC. I was living and working part time in a loft in SoHo at the corner of Broadway and Broome St, working for artist John Alexander when I met Christine. Christine was in the original Broadway cast of Oklahoma and could sing as well as anyone on the planet, seriously! She was giving a performance that summer of “Songs by Sondheim” at Guild Hall of East Hampton and asked if I wanted to come out and stay with her while she practiced. Wondering where we would stay I asked and she said with her friend Dina Merrill. I’d never heard of Dina but I recognized her husband Cliff Robertson. We took the Long Island Railroad from Penn Station and arrived after dark in East Hampton. Dina’s driver picked us up. The only thing I noticed was a sleepy town with tree lined streets. The next morning we woke up by the beach in a different world, a hundred miles away from the noise and pollution of Manhattan. We spent several long weeks at their home, my introduction to The East End, a place far different than a kid from Texas would have imagined. I remember getting up early that first morning and going into the dinning room by myself. The table was set on a fine tablecloth, you could help yourself to was juice and coffee, a bowl of fresh fruit, several place settings with a medium sized plate on a larger plate, six or eight knives, forks and spoons, glasses, a napkin all perfectly arranged and two neatly folded news papers. I sat down wondering what to do. Then a minute later a very polite lady from the kitchen came to the table and asked what I’d like for breakfast. I think I chose something simple like bacon and eggs. One morning there were three other guests at the table and someone asked Christine how she warms up for a performance. Christine demonstrated by singing, softly at first going thru the scales for a minute or two. It was one of the most beautiful sounds I’d ever heard, like a songbird welcoming the morning sun in the Garden of Eden. Dina’s house wasn’t what you’d expect either, certainly not by today’s standards but beautiful in every way, tucked into the dunes and surrounded by low trees and plantings so that it didn’t appear to stand out. It wasn’t a large house. The guest rooms were small, there was a living room and a small library. It was meant to be a beach house and our hostess showed it was OK to walk on the carpet with sand on your feet. What caught my attention more than anything though was Dina’s scrapbook on a table in the library.

Yacht Sea Cloud

As a child Dina, with her parents Wall Street tycoon E. F. Hutton and his wife, cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, sailed around the world on their yacht, the Sea Cloud. She had saved all the newspaper clippings from their ports of call, usually from the front page of the local papers from all over the world. The leather-bound collection, with a picture of the Sea Cloud on the cover was 3-4″ thick and half the size of a sheet of newsprint. I was fascinated and began to realize who Dina Merrill was. We had lunch at the Maidstone Club, we were invited for cocktails at the Gardiner’s estate, to a concierto by the legendary Carlos Montoya and Christine’s performance was outstanding. Wherever we went heads would turn when we walked in with Dina.

Roger Lacey Stevens, pencil sketch, 1985

I’m not positive today as I think back but one person who stopped by Dina’s while I was there was her friend Roger Lacy Stevens, very stately looking and a gentleman. Mr. Stevens was the Chairman of the board for the Kennedy Center. This is a sketch I made after we met which would have been around that time.

Another day we drove over to Watermill about 8 miles away to the Halsey farm stand just for the sweet corn. Dina said it was the best farmstead and sweet corn anywhere. After dinner I asked Beasey, the cook how she prepared it. She smiled and in a raspy voice said, “You put an inch of water in a large pot and bring it to a boil, then put the corn in, the lid on, turn the burner off and let it steam for three minutes”. The result of cooking sweet white corn this way is perhaps one of the best recipes for corn on the cob you’ll ever try, but it has to be white sweet corn. I’ve tried cooking this way myself and it always turns out good but I don’t think I’ve ever made it as good as Beasey. I couldn’t have been more out of place but Ms. Merrill knew how to make any guest at her home feel comfortable. She was always gracious, polite, delightful to be around, down to earth and my first friend here. Dina came to one of my first shows and bought the best piece in the show. She was a true supporter of the arts and remained my friend. The last time I saw Dina we were in a small group show together at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum called For The Birds. She had done a beautiful little watercolor from her imagination. I think everyone who met her or knew her personally would say the same thing. She was a beautiful person, a one of a kind and certainly one of the nicest people you would ever meet. I was fortunate to have met Dina Merrill.

2018-05-24T07:42:11+00:00 April 25th, 2018|