SOUTH AFRICAN CLASSIC FILM STAR JOHN BUCKLER by Deborah Painter

Born April 1, 1906 in Cape Town, John Henry Clanfergael Buckler was the son of well known actor Hugh Buckler and Violet Buckler.  John was a tall youth; a full 1.68 meters in height by the age of 19.  He possessed a rich voice that was well suited for the stage.  His family moved to New York City, New York and John’s stage debut began auspiciously on Broadway in 1925, playing an English reporter in The Green Hat.   He also performed in The Barretts of Wimpole Street. Hugh Buckler was offered a contract with Universal Pictures in Universal City near Los Angeles, so off the family went to the palm tree lined boulevards of “Hollywood”.

Young John’s first film role was in 1934 in the comedy That’s Gratitude for Columbia Pictures in 1934.  He played Clayton Lorimer in this story of a down on his luck stage producer who finds a small town resident in mortal danger and saves his life.  In gratitude the man asks him to stay with his family until he can get himself established.  The producer soon becomes too annoying to be allowed to remain. 

Comic relief Herbert Mundin (left), who worked with John in David Copperfield, is his bumbling assistant in Tarzan Escapes. Another cast member who worked with John in the earlier Charles Dickens drama was Maureen O’Sullivan. CREDITS Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
David Copperfield was one of the hits of 1935. CREDITS Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

 In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s David Copperfield he is “Ham Peggotty”, a slow witted but honest boat builder and friend of young David (Freddie Bartholomew).   Ham meets his end a hero, saving a group stranded on a boat off the coast of Yarmouth during a terrific storm. David Copperfield was followed by Eight Bells (Columbia Pictures, 1935) as cargo steamer Commander Roy Dale (John Buckler) falls in love with a stowaway (Ann Sothern) during a particularly difficult crossing.

Ann Sothern (center, with arm raised) and John Buckler starred in Eight Bells. CREDITS Columbia Pictures

Columbia Pictures starred Boris Karloff as twin Hungarian noblemen, one murderous and one good, in 1935’s The Black Room.  Buckler is Beran, a villager. In The Unguarded Hour, his second for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, John is the Defense Counsel.  This is the story of a young lawyer (Franchot Tone) being blackmailed.  The title refers to a period of time in which you are completely alone and no one else knows exactly where you are; if, theoretically, you are accused of a crime during this “unguarded” time there would be no witnesses and thus, no way to prove you did not do it.

     Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cast Buckler as the villainous Captain Fry in the Tarzan adventure Tarzan Escapes. Jane Parker (Maureen O’Sullivan) is sought by her cousins Rita and Eric (Benita Hume and William Henry) because a rich old relative has left the three of them money, but in order for them to claim it and keep it from going to an entomological organization Jane must leave Tarzan’s (Johnny Weissmuller’s) side in the jungle and take a journey of several months to Britain to sign papers. An opportunistic Fry volunteers to take them to the dangerous escarpment where she and Tarzan live.  His secret plan is to trick Tarzan into thinking Jane is not coming back, then capture him and turn him over to Tarzan’s enemy in exchange for boats and other supplies.

John and his father never got the opportunity to see the release print of this film. It was to be John’s last.  On October 30, 1936 the two were motoring in the Malibu area near the Pacific Ocean during bad weather.  Their vehicle plunged into Malibu Lake where it was found the next day.  Hugh was 64 and John was 30.  Their drownings marked a tragic end to an all too brief motion picture career. Fortunately, John’s films have survived the decades and can be enjoyed by audiences of the 21st century.