Born July 15, 1931 in Chicago, Ms. Merlin began her career as an actor. She appeared in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 remake of The Ten Commandments as Jethro's Daughter before making her Broadway debut in Becket. Her most notable stage role would come in 1964, when she created the role of Tevye's eldest daughter Tzeitel in the original company of Fiddler on the Roof.
That project would also begin Ms. Merlin's association with Hal Prince, who produced Fiddler's original run. She left the company of Fiddler to focus on raising her two children with husband David Dretzin, only for Prince to call and get her back into the business as his primary casting director, a role with a far more flexible and child-friendly schedule. Ms. Merlin would go on to cast later companies of Fiddler and Prince's entire string of 1970s landmark Stephen Sondheim musicals, including Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures, Sweeney Todd, and Merrily We Roll Along. Her other Broadway casting credits include Side By Side By Sondheim, On the Twentieth Century, Evita, A Doll's Life, Play Memory, End of the World, and, finally, Into the Woods on Broadway. Ms. Merlin also served as casting director for a number of films, including Year of the Dragon, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Emperor, Mr & Mrs. Bridge, The Lover, and Jefferson in Paris.
Ms. Merlin continued to act occasionally throughout her long career, appearing on Broadway in Shelter, Uncle Vanya, The Survivor, and Solomon's Child while active as a casting director. She spent more of her acting time on screen, playing roles in such projects as Mystic Pizza, L.A. Law, Northern Exposure, Law & Order, The Good Wife, and Homeland.
She was a faculty member of New York University's graduate acting program and founded the Michael Chekhov Association in 1999, where she also taught acting workshops. Ms. Merlin won an Artios Award from the Casting Society of America in 1988 for The Last Emperor.
Ms. Merlin was preceded in death by husband David Dretzin. She is survived by their two children, actor Julie Dretzin and film producer Rachel Dretzin.