Sybill Merritt

Sybil Merritt

The round faced, pretty Sybil Merritt could have been somebody in Hollywood. She had the looks and the acting chops, but joining the long line of starlets whose careers amounted to nothing, she left movies after less than 10 years.

EARLY LIFE:

Sybil Adrian Alderman was born on December 14, 1923 in Newark, New Yersey, to Ruth Kusseuk and ? Alderman. Her maternal grandfather immigated from Russia to the States in the late 19th century, married her New York born grandmother, and had two children with her.

The family moved to Los Angeles when she was one year old. At the age of 5, she made her screen debut in the Mickey Rooney Mickey McGuire silent comedies, but that was a far as her juvenile career went, as her parents decided to give paramour to her education over her career. She was enrolled into a private elementary school, where she excelled at writing and won several prizes for her prose.

Her parents divorced in the late 1920s, and her mother married salesman Moe Diamond in the mid 1930s. They family lived in Beverly Hills, where she attended Beverly Hills High School. She started acting in about 1942, at 19 years old.

CAREER:

Sybil MerrittSybil did the obligatory grooming period in uncredited roles. First, she was under contract to Hughes, but was loaned for Once Upon a Time and The Story of Dr. Wassell, movies featuring two greats Gary Cooper and Cary Grant, in their lesser roles. Then Sybil wisely chose to end her contract to Hughes and signed with MGM. MGM put her on their uncredited roster, and her voyage continued with  SnafuThe ClockA Song to RememberMusic for Millions and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. She was lucky to veer from musicals to serious drama. In at  least one role Sybil was more than an extra (she played Chopin’s sister in a Song to Remember), and seemed like on a good way for something better.

Sybil did go up a notch on her next feature, but in a completely wrong direction IMHO. She was loaned out for Danny Boy, a Rin Tin Tin rip off about a war hero dog (yes, dog) and his adventures back home in the US. Le’ts be frank, when you have a movie about the dog, the only real stars are the dog and his obligatory best buddy, usually a teenage boy, the sole human who understand and trusts him. Everybody else just falls into the shade, even the always present love struck couple there to supply a doze of romance. Sybil was one half of that couple, and was billed below the title and given the proper publicity, but in the end it did nothing for her career.

She lingered a little bit longer in Hollywood, closing out her MGM contract with two uncredited roles (the serious docudrama The Beginning or the End  and the Van Johnson comedy Easy to Wed), then began freelancing.

Columbia gave her a shot at B western in Smoky Mountain Melody, where she played the female lead, but instead of trying to carve her niche in the genre and at least getting decent work, she took a long hiatus from he screen, and did some theater work.

When she returned in 1950, she switched to a poverty row studio and made a lukewarm drama,  The Vicious Years. Despite being the lead, a weak script and low production values and total Z class cast made sure no ripples were made with the movie, and her last appearance in Hollywood was a supporting role in Japanese War Bride. The film was actually an interesting, mature study of post war relations between people, very humane and subtle in its approach to this delicate issue. Sybil could probably have continued her stint in minor support roles if she wanted, but she chose to quit it all. She became an artist and inventor, never making another movie.

PRIVATE LIFE:

rszIn early 1943, Sybil was the girlfriend of the well known cad, Stephen Crane, who was married to Lana Turner. After Stephen came the ultimate womanizer, Howard Hughes, who took both a professional and private interest in Sybil. He wanted to make her a new Jane Russell, as the original went into semi retirement after her marriage to Bob Waterfield.

In mid 1946, Sybil dated Una Merkel‘s former husband, Ron Burla, an airline pilot. The relationship seemed to be progressing nicely and there were hints of marriage in late 1946, but then it ended with a nasty bang in July 1947, and the two remained in chilly relations afterwards.

As an MGM contractee Sybill was the subject of several highly dubious publicity stunts. Her house hunting exploits in the Los Angeles area ended up in the papers for no special reason, and so on.

Sybil took a year and half of hiatus from movies, and talked about it in length in the papers, who it’s a big mistake for an actress not to do anything for such a long time. She suggested doing anything, including small production in the theater, just to remain active. Sage advice, I have to say, and from my own personal experience in other areas of life, I second this.

In 1951, Sybil dyed her hair silver as a fad, and was hailed as the prematurely gray gal in the papers. She was involved with noted doctor Lew Morrill. Later she dated the freshly divorced Robert Taylor, at the time that Barbara Stanwyck, his former wife, still hoped for a reconciliation. Neither Sybil or Babs managed to catch Bob.

In 1952, she left her Hollywood flat with her roommate Diane Cassidy for New York, but returned soon enough to California. She was beaued by Nicky Hilton for a time in April/May, and then switched to the handsome Chilean polo player, Manuel Rojas, who would later marry Martha Vickers.

In 1953, she was linked to Hal Hayes, the wealthy builder and boyfriend of Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Bruce Jones. The next year, in 1954, she helped her good friend and sometime escort, Dr. Lew Morrill, when he broke his leg by renting him her home. Lew was married to Rhonda Fleming at the time, but it was a very rocky union that later ended in a divorce.

Sybil finally married in 1955 – her groom was insurance broker Julian Hood, and the place was Las Vegas.  Hood was born in 1925 in Canada, and emigrated to the states as a youth. As with many Vegas marriage, an inevitable divorce came just months later, in January 1956, when she attained lawyer Jerry Doff to handle all the legal necessities. Later that year, she went back to the dating game, hooking up with Al Herd. Julian went on to marry Gloria Alaverez and died in 1978 in California.

Nothing else is known about her further life, except that she died, as Sybil Adrian Merritt, unmarried, on October 11, 2004, in Los Angeles, California.

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4 responses

  1. There’s some misinformation in here. Sybil Merritt was actually born Julianna, and we think her birth name was Brown. Her brother was known as Allen Brown. Her mother’s name was Inez, and she was born in Texas. Sybil/Julianna married Robert Poe in the 1940s and they had one son, Michael, in early 1946. He’s my brother-in-law. I don’t know when they divorced, but they did not have a long or successful marriage, and there were no other children. She was an alcoholic and moved quite a bit during her son’s childhood. She died alone because she ruined her family relationships.

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