Actor. He is best remembered for his portrayal of the staunch Comandante Manuel in the film "Zorro's Fighting Legion" (1939). Born Myrtland LaVarre, the youngest of three brothers, he was raised in a prominent family. His father was an acclaimed novelist and his mother an heiress to the Singer Sewing Machine Corporation. After serving in World War I, he took an interest in acting during his stance in France and upon returning home following the end of the war, he enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York City, New York. Due to his parents immense disapproval, he took upon the surname John Merton and joined the Theatre Guild in 1919 and began appearing in a variety of well-known shows such as "A Young Man's Fancy," "Apple Blossoms," "Ghosts," "Night Lodging," "One Night in Rome," "The Book of Job," "Twelfth Night," "Beyond the Horizon," "A Bill of Divorcement," "The Enchanted Cottage," "Bulldog Drummond," and "Seventh Heaven". In 1927, he was signed under contract to Astoria Studios and made his film debut in "Running Wild" (1927) and from there he went on to embark in a fruitful career in the film industry going on to appear in over 260 features. He was often typecast as either a villain, gangster, historical figure, con-man, guard, policeman, sergeant, scientist, aristocrat, dashing lover, playboy, doctor, lawyer, educator, philanthropist, engineer, diplomat, cowboy, sheriff, foreign trader, eccentric, military man, reporter, detective, or constable. He appeared in such motion pictures as "Beyond the Law" (1934), "Underseas Kingdom" (1936), "Slaves in Bondage" (1937), "Dick Tracy Returns" (1938), "The Great Commandment" (1939), "Drums of Fu Munchu" (1940), "Frontier Crusader" (1940), "White Eagle" (1941), "Sherriff of Sage Valley" (1942), "Black Market Rustlers" (1943), "Valley of Vengeance" (1944), "Flame of the West" (1945), "Son of the Guardsman" (1946), "Raiders of the South" (1947), "Adventures of Sir Galahad" (1949), "A Snitch in Time" (1950), "Gold Raiders" (1951), "Up in Daisy's Penthouse" (1953), and "The Ten Commandments" (1956). With the advent of television, he became a familiar face appearing in numerous guest spots on such syndicated sitcoms as "The Lone Ranger," ""Boston Blackie," "The Cisco Kid," "Adventures of Superman," "The Roy Rogers Show," "Your Favorite Story," "The Man Called X," "Adventures of Wild Bill Hickock," and "The Life and Legend of Wild Earp". During his career, he was a member of the Screen Actors Guild, was supportive of the Motion Picture and Television Fund, was a regular parishioner of the Episcopal church, supported the California State Democratic Committee, was a chairman for his local divisions of The American Red Cross and The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and he was married to actress Esther Swarts from 1921 to 1941 (their union ended in divorce and produced six children, two of whom included fellow actors Bob LaVarre and Lane Bradford). In 1959, Merton, a lifelong smoker, died from complications of a heart attack.
Bio by: Lowell Thurgood