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The 'brains' and 'action' heavies who had meaty roles and lots of dialog ... and the players who were fathers, ranch owners, lawman, mayors, judges, lawyers, storekeepers, newspaper editors, wardens, etc.



(From Old Corral image collection)
 
John Merton
Real name:
Myrtland Vivian Lavarre
1901 - 1959

In the picture on the left, John Merton is the bald and fanged "Loki", one of the Dacoits, in the cliffhanger DRUMS OF FU MANCHU (Republic, 1940). Henry Brandon (left) portrays Fu Manchu.

Lane Bradford
Real name:
Myrtland Vivian Lavarre, Jr.
1922 - 1973

In the picture on the right, Lane Bradford is "Marex" in the serial, ZOMBIES OF THE STRATOSPHERE (Republic, 1952).

 
(From Old Corral image collection)


There were some big, burly actors who portrayed villains and heavies in the old B westerns and serials - names that come to mind are Roy Barcroft, Harry Woods, Le Roy Mason ... and John Merton.

Merton was born Vivien / Vivian Myrtland La Varre in Washington State (not Washington D. C.) in 1901 to William and Leilia La Varre. In the 1910 census, the family had re-located to Washington, D. C. and father William was a "Naval Architect".

He served in the U. S. Navy during World War I. Merton got the acting bug, and in the early 1920s, he toured in vaudeville and stage shows under his real name of Myrtland La Varre.

He began his cinema career in the late 1920s, and the earliest trade paper mention was a tidbit in the January 23, 1927 issue of Film Daily: "Myrtland La Varre has been added to the cast of 'Knockout Riley,' starring Richard Dix."

His name change to John Merton occurred circa 1934-1935. During his stage work and early films, he was Myrtland / Myrt LaVarre. He was Mert LaVarre in 1934 films with Tim McCoy and Buck Jones. Regardless of the name variations, he was typecast as a heavy, and for about twenty years, he menaced a variety of cowboy and serial heroes and heroines. Les Adams has Merton identified in about 150 oaters and 28 serials. His film appearances at Republic Pictures is only about 35 films - mostly cliffhangers and westerns - and those were scattered over the years 1936 - 1949.

One of Merton's best remembered roles is one of the "dacoits" in the serial, DRUMS OF FU MANCHU (Republic, 1940) - the photo at the top of this page shows a shaven (and long-toothed) Merton, and on the left is Henry Brandon as "Fu Manchu".

He shows up often in uncredited parts in A grade films, including appearances in nine Cecil B. de Mille epics. Merton's first for de Mille was CLEOPATRA (Paramount, 1934) and his last was THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (Paramount, 1956). And "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood" gossip column in October, 1946 newspapers mentioned that "George Jessel tells me John Merton, who plays Teddy Roosevelt in 'I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now' is wonderful."

Merton was married twice - his first was a 1921 Manhattan, New York marriage to Esther Swarts and the second was in 1942 in Los Angeles with Ellen Margaret Curtan who was a registered nurse. First wife Esther was Lane Bradford's mother.

Some interesting 1940 census information shown further down this webpage. There are dual census records - in early April, 1940, 39 year old Myrtland LaVarre is one of many prisoners at the Lincoln Heights Jail in Los Angeles. I found nothing in newspapers or trades on the reasons for that jail time. In late April, 1940, the census had the LaVarre family with Myrtland, wife Esther, two sons and four daughters.

John Merton passed away from heart problems at his California home on September 18, 1959.

Merton's son Lane Bradford was born Myrtland Vivian Lavarre, Jr. in 1922. He began his film career in the 1940s as the serial and B western were in decline. He served in the U. S. Army during World War II. Generally portraying a heavy, Bradford worked at Republic, Monogram and PRC. When movie work began to fade, he migrated to television and became a prolific TV performer in series such as BONANZA, GUNSMOKE, ANNIE OAKLEY, ZANE GREY THEATER, 26 MEN, WILD BILL HICKOK, BUFFALO BILL JR., lots more. Bradford has 32 film appearances in serials and cowboy flicks at Republic Pictures during the years 1943 - 1954. He loved boating and Hawaii, and 50 year old Lane Bradford was living in Hawaii when he passed away at Kaiser Memorial Hospital in Honolulu on June 6, 1973 after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage aboard his boat.

(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Above - John Merton, late 1930s.


(Courtesy of Jack Tillmany)
Above - Lane Bradford, 1950s.


Right - John Merton, under his real name of Myrtland LaVarre, traveling and performing in the playlet "Blondes" on the Orpheum circuit, November, 1923 in Nebraska.


John Merton's Movie stats.
Below is a chart of John Merton's movie career from 1927-1957 in westerns, serials, shorts, and other films. His 1950s TV work is not included. I've used the RELEASE dates (not filming dates) from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
Total films in this chart = 251 and about two-thirds are westerns and serials.
4
6
4
17
18
18
14
14
13
16
20
18
14
15
6
5
12
13
7
7
4
2
1
2
1
1927-
1933
1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957


Links on John Merton and his son, Lane Bradford.
  Although some of the data is incomplete or inaccurate, the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has film appearance information on John Merton and his sons, Lane Bradford and Bob Lavarre:
John Merton (Myrtland Vivian Lavarre) (1901-1959): http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0581611/
Lane Bradford (Myrtland Vivian Lavarre, Jr.) (1922-1973): http://us.imdb.com/name/nm0103048/
Bob Lavarre (Robert Edwin Lavarre) (1933- ): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0491787

The IMDb has a "people working together" search function. And the answer is Yes! John Merton and son Lane Bradford worked together in about a half dozen films: http://www.imdb.com/search/title?roles=nm0103048,nm0581611&title_type=feature,tv_episode,video,tv_movie,tv_special,mini_series,documentary,game,short

The Internet Broadway Database has Myrtland La Varre in two New York plays, one in 1922-1923 and another in 1930: https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/myrtland-la-varre-48690

The New York Public Library, Billy Rose Theater Collection, has a great closeup of young Myrtland LaVarre, probably taken about 1922 when he appeared in the New York stage play R.U.R. (Rossums Universal Robots): http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-113f-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

There's more about John Merton and Lane Bradford's work in cliffhangers at Daniel Neyer's "The Files of Jerry Blake" serial website:
John Merton: http://filesofjerryblake.com/serial-henchmen/john-merton/
Lane Bradford: http://filesofjerryblake.com/serial-henchmen/lane-bradford/

Boyd Magers' Western Clippings website has profiles on:
John Merton: http://www.westernclippings.com/heavies/johnmerton_charactersheavies.shtml
Lane Bradford: http://www.westernclippings.com/heavies/lanebradford_charactersheavies.shtml


On the trail of John Merton and his son Lane Bradford.
The Family Search website (free), Ancestry.com (subscription), Newspaper Archive (subscription), California Death Index, and the death certificate provide more on John Merton and his son Lane Bradford. Tracing Merton through various sources has been a bit chaotic because of all the name variations that have been found. Based on his World War I draft registration, Merton's real name was Myrtland Vivian Lavarre. Other spelling variations include LaVarre, La Varre, Levarre and Vivian (with an a) and Vivien (with an e).

  • 1900 census summary and census takers worksheet - prior to the birth of John Merton. 26 year old Wm. J. Lavarre (born Georgia), his 25 year old wife Leilia (born Virginia), and their 2 year old son William J. (born Virginia) are renting in Charleston Precinct, Kitsap County, state of Washington. Occupation of father William is "Draftsman": https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MMPV-JQY
  • 1910 census summary and census takers worksheet - living in Washington D. C. are 29 year old William J. La Varre (born Georgia; occupation "Naval Architect"), his 29 year old wife Leilia G. (born Virginia), 11 year old son William J. (born Virginia), 7 year old daughter Lucelle (born Virginia), 5 year old son Franklin M. (born Washington D.C.) and 9 year old son Vivien M. (born Washington D.C.): https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/MKLN-SV9
  • World War I draft registration dated September 12, 1918 in Washington D. C. - 18 year old Myrtland Vivien La Varre lives at 902 Longfellow Street, Washington D. C. Nearest relative is mother Leilia G. La Varre at that 902 Longfellow Street address. Occupation and employer is "None". Handwritten at the top of the card is "Released for re-enlistment to U. S. N. 10/18/18"; https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KZFW-FQV
  • 1920 census summary and census takers worksheet - living in Washington D. C. are 49 year old Leila Lavaree [sic] (born Virginia), and she is head of the household. Children are 21 year old son William J. (born Virginia), 18 year old son Myrtland (born Washington State), 16 year old daughter Lucille (born Virginia), 15 year old son Franklin (born Washington D.C.) and 8 year old son Claude (born New York). 18 year old son Myrtland (born Washington State) is John Merton. His occupation is "Artist (Dram) - Moving Pictures": https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MNGS-WJ4
  • Ancestry.com had the New York marriage index (not the license) for the marriage of Myrtland V. LeVarre [sic] and Esther Swarts on September 26, 1921 in Manhattan, New York.
  • 1930 census summary and census takers worksheet - renting in Yonkers, New York are 29 year old Myrtland La Varre (born Washington; occupation "Actor - Stage"), his 30 year old wife Esther (born New York), 4 year old daughter Geraldine (born New York), 1 year old daughter Gloria Mae (born New York) and 7 year old son Myrtland La Varre Jr. (born New York; he would become actor Lane Bradford). Merton is a World War I veteran: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/X4G2-JTM
  • California Birth Index for Robert Edwin Lavarre, born February 16, 1933 in Los Angeles and his mother's maiden name was Swarts: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VLP9-B3M
  • 1940 - there's two census summaries and worksheets for Merton in 1940:
    • 1940 census record has a spelling error, apparently when the record was converted to a digital record - living in the Los Angeles area is 30 year old Myrtland LaVone [sic]: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/K9HT-CXV
      However, the 1940 census takers worksheet dated April 2, 1940 clearly shows the LaVarre name - 39 year old Myrtland LaVarre is one of many who are in the Lincoln Heights Jail in Los Angeles: https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-27794-1311-24?cc=2000219&wc=MMYH-NZH:1365358974
      (Checked newspapers, trade publications and fan magazines to see if there's any mention of the jail time for Merton. Alas - nothing found.)
    • 1940 census takers worksheet dated April 27, 1940 - renting at 1040 Laurel, Beverly Hills Judicial Township, West Hollywood, Los Angeles County is the large Myrtland LaVarre family. Family Search has their last name as LaNarre [sic]. 39 year old Myrtland Lavarre (born Washington), 40 year old wife Esther (born New York), 17 year old Myrtland Jr. (born New York; this is Lane Bradford), 14 year old daughter Geraldine (born New York), 11 year old daughter Gloria (born New York), 8 year old daughter Helen (born New York), 7 year old son Robert (born California), and 4 year old daughter Claudia (born California). Myrtland, Esther and Myrtland Jr. have completed 4 years of high school. The occupation of Myrtland (John Merton) is "Photographer - photography": https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K97Z-32K
  • May 31, 1942 Los Angeles marriage license for 41 year old John Myrtland Lavarre (born Washington) and 27 year old Ellen Margaret Curtan (born Colorado). His parents were Wm. S. Lavarre (born Georgia) and Helia Woodin Haynes (born Virginia). He was divorced, and this was his second marriage. His occupation is "Theatrical - Motion Pictures" and hers is "Reg. Nurse": https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K8V5-6SR
  • Death certificate - 58 year old John Merton La Varre/LaVarre was born February 18, 1901 in Washington, and his parents were William J. LaVarre (born Virginia) and Lelia Haynes (born Virginia). His occupation was "Actor - Desilu Productions - Motion Pictures", and he was a World War I veteran. He and wife Ellen C. LaVarre (occupation "registered nurse") lived at 7629 Coldwater Canyon Avenue, Los Angeles, and he passed away at his home on September 18, 1959 from heart problems. Burial at Pierce Bros. Vallhalla.
  • California Death Index has dual records for "Myrtland F. Lavarre" and "John Merton Lavarre". He was born in Washington on February 8, 1901, and passed away on September 18, 1959 in the Los Angeles area:
    https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPDY-DW4
    https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VGRZ-LVX

Jim Tipton's Find A Grave website confirms that Merton is interred at Valhalla Memorial Park, North Hollywood, Los Angeles County, California: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=139725048

  • The National Archives, Army enlistment database has a record on Lane Bradford's Army enlistment - Myrtland La Varre Jr. enlisted February 24, 1943 in Los Angeles as a Private in the U. S. Army. He was born in New York in 1922; had one year of high school education; was married; and civilian occupation of Actors and actresses: https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&sc=24994,24995,24996,24998,24997,24993,24981,24983&q=la+varre&bc=sl,fd&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=7985725
  • There was a lengthy death notice on Lane Bradford in the June 14, 1973 issue of the Van Nuys (California) The News newspaper. Excerpts: "Memorial services were held Saturday in Honolulu for veteran actor Lane Bradford, 50, who died at Kaiser Memorial Hospital there on June 6 (1973) after suffering a massive cerebral hemorrhage aboard his boat." ; "... survived by his widow Mary, mother Esther LaVarre ... brother Robert ... four sisters ..."
    (The article has lots of details on his movie and television career as well as his love for boating. If anyone wants a copy, shoot the Old Corral webmeister an e-mail.)

Family Search has 1940s-1950s marriage index records as well as the marriage licenses for four of John Merton's children Robert, Geraldine, Gloria and Clauda. The following link will take you to La Varre marriages in California, and you can scroll through the names: https://familysearch.org/search/record/results?count=75&query=%2Bsurname%3Alavarre&collection_id=(1804002%201949339)



Lane Bradford
Real name: Myrtland Vivian Lavarre, Jr.
1922 - 1973

(From Old Corral image collection)

Above - Lane Bradford in one of his many post World War II B westerns.



(From Old Corral image collection)

Above is the treacherous trio from the serial DON DAREDEVIL RIDES AGAIN (Republic, 1951). Left to right are Lane Bradford, Roy Barcroft and left handed John (Bob) Cason.


(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Left to right are Rand Brooks (back to camera), Lane Bradford, I. Stanford Jolley, James Ellison and Johnny Mack Brown in MAN FROM THE BLACK HILLS (Monogram, 1952). There were only a couple more Monograms before Brown hung up his spurs. And this was one of the final appearances for Ellison before retiring from movies and concentrating on his California home construction and contracting business.



John Merton
Real name: Myrtland Vivian Lavarre
1901 - 1959

(From Old Corral image collection)

Left to right are Stanley Andrews, George Cleveland, Charlie King (background wearing hat), Lynn Roberts and John Merton in a scene from the cliffhanger, THE LONE RANGER (Republic, 1938). Andrews was the head villain in the serial and Merton was a henchman. George Cleveland is probably best remembered as "Gramps" in the first TV series of LASSIE (with Tommy Rettig). Andrews also did TV work and is recalled as "the Old Ranger" who introduced the stories on DEATH VALLEY DAYS.


(From Old Corral image collection)

Left to right are Mary Hayes, star Kermit Maynard and John Merton in a scene from ROARING SIX GUNS (Ambassador/Conn, 1937).


(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Left to right are John Merton, Hank Bell, Harley/Harlene Wood (Jill Martin) and Kermit Maynard in a crop from a lobby card from Kermit's VALLEY OF TERROR (Ambassador/Conn, 1937).


(From Old Corral image collection)

Left to right are Jack Rockwell, Karl Hackett, John Merton, Tim McCoy, Joe Girard and Lafe McKee in a lobby card from LIGHTNIN' BILL CARSON (Puritan, 1936).


(From Old Corral image collection)

Left to right are Harry Strang, Lane Chandler, Tim McCoy (in his Mexican disguise), John Merton and Betty Compson in the McCoy oater, TWO GUN JUSTICE (Monogram, 1938).


(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above - Hopalong Cassidy has the drop on three nasties. From left to right are John Merton, Roy Barcroft, Bob Kortman and William Boyd in a still from RENEGADE TRAIL (Harry Sherman Prod/Paramount, 1939).


(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Left to right are Kermit Maynard, Art Davis and John Merton in PRAIRIE PALS (PRC, 1942), one of the six Frontier Marshals trio series which starred Davis, Bill 'Cowboy Rambler' Boyd and Lee Powell.


(From Old Corral image collection)

Left to right are John Merton, Dave 'Tex' O'Brien, Buster Crabbe (seated), Lynton Brent and Curley Dresden in SHERIFF OF SAGE VALLEY (1942), one of the entries in Crabbe's long running series at PRC during the 1940s.  Crabbe had a dual role in this oater, and "the other Crabbe" is facing him on the far left.


(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Above - John King is pummeling prolific baddie John Merton in Range Busters adventure number 14, BOOT HILL BANDITS (Monogram, 1942).


(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Left to right are Johnny Mack Brown, an older Jack Perrin, John Merton and Pierce Lyden in SHADOWS ON THE RANGE (Monogram, 1946).


(Courtesy of Minard Coons)

Left to right are Myron Healey, Steve Clark, Marshall Reed, John Merton, Max Terhune, and on the far right wearing the suit is Hugh Prosser. From WESTERN RENEGADES (Monogram, 1949), an entry in the Johnny Mack Brown series.


(Courtesy of Les Adams)

Left to right are Johnny Mack Brown, John Merton and Bob McElroy in a crop from a lobby card from MAN FROM SONORA (Monogram, 1951).


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