Buschlen family of Arthur built lives in California

Over the years I have outlined the lives and careers of Wellington County natives who moved elsewhere.

Another one to add to the list is the Buschlen family of Arthur.

John Buschlen and his wife were early citizens of Arthur. Their son, George Henry Buschlen, was born in 1863. He grew up in Arthur, and after his schooling he apprenticed as a blacksmith, and soon had his own shop in the village, where he spent much of his career.

His shop enjoyed a respectable business through the 1890s and the early years of the 20th century.

He soon gained respect and recognition as a public-spirited man. George served for a number of years on the Arthur council, and was very active in the Latter Day Saints Church, where he was an elder. In later years he wrote and published a couple of pamphlets on religious subjects for the church. He was a friendly and kind man and scrupulously honest in business. Those qualities won him a large circle of friends.

George Buschlen married Caroline Andrews, the daughter of another pioneer Arthur family. They had a family of seven children, but two died in infancy, and the eldest died in 1910 at the age of 14. George and his wife left Arthur in the 1920s, moving to Toronto, where he continued to work sporadically at his trade. By then the four surviving children were on their own.

Around 1929 he moved to Los Angeles, possibly as a result of poor health. He was then in his mid-60s. He went to Los Angeles to be near three of his children, John, Charles, and Libby, the youngest daughter, all of whom had relocated there.

Of the children, John, the second oldest and born in 1888, is the most interesting. As a youth in Arthur he had taken a position with a bank. The lure of fame grasped him early, probably the consequence of boring hours in the teller’s cage.

He began writing seriously in his mid 20s. The result was a book called A Canadian Bank Clerk, which he succeeded in getting published. It was generally well received for a first effort by a young man.

A few of the published notices reviewing his book found it heavy and excessively serious. Buschlen continued to write, but determined that his second book would be different in tone. Behind the Wicket was published by the William Briggs publishing company of Toronto in 1914. Its 264 pages contained 24 short stories about the life of a young bank employee. There is a very obvious biographical tone to the stories, but like the first book, there is nothing to identify Arthur as the setting for the tales.

The most interesting chapter in the book, from the historical point of view, is the final one. Rather than a piece of fiction, it is a call for bank clerks to unionize. At the time it was written in 1914 the bank was considered a good career path for a young man, especially those with only a couple of years of high school education. On the other hand, the banks were, at least at the junior levels, notoriously low paid institutions.

As well as low pay, clerks had to contend with periodic transfers to places not of their own choosing, substandard living quarters that were often over the bank branch or at the rear of it, and a ban on marriage until their salaries reached a level of $1,000 per year or more.

The salaries of juniors and clerks at that time were normally in the range of $500 to $600 per year. Buschlen was not alone among bank clerks in calling for common action and union organization. A rally in Toronto that year attracted 300 men (the chartered banks at that time would not hire women) and received much publicity.

The banks reacted with alarm to the restive clerks, and would continue to battle any attempts at unionization for the rest of the 20th century. Buschlen was rather rash in putting his opinions in a book that enjoyed fairly wide circulation and that had his name on the cover. In any case, his career in the Canadian banking system was nearing its end. He does not seem to have been happy as a bank clerk anyway. He severed his ties with the bank, and moved to Montana, where he also worked in the banking business, but for the local banks that dotted the American west, where rules and regulations were comparatively slack compared to Canadian standards.

Buschlen also continued to write. Soon he had a whole shelf of titles, most with a banking theme: The Crooked Teller, The New Junior, and The Drummer, among others. He also returned to his pet subject in Bank Clerks Organized.

In 1917 Buschlen enlisted in the United States Army, and served in Europe the following year. After the armistice he returned to the United States and to banking in Montana. Photographs of him from this period show him with thick eyeglasses, looking very much like a mild-mannered bank clerk.

His activities through the 1920s are somewhat murky, but by 1930, and probably much earlier, he had moved to Los Angeles. The motion picture industry was then in its formative years in California, and John Buschlen saw himself as a writer for films. As well, his brother Charles was already in Los Angeles, and his sister Libby would soon move there. Later the three siblings would welcome their parents to the city.

Though he did not make a name for himself, Buschlen was able to earn a steady living in the motion picture industry, assisting various producers and directors, and polishing scripts that needed work. He wrote a number of screenplays, but did not enjoy great success in getting them produced.

Still, he felt sufficiently secure to apply for American citizenship in 1935. Titles he wrote and attempted to get produced included God Bless Our Home, Our Daily Bread, and His Excellency’s Tobacco Shop. As far as can be determined, none were produced, though there was a 1934 film called Our Daily Bread. The writing credits for that film went to King Vidor and Joseph Mankiewicz, not Buschlen, and it may not have based on his original script. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Buschlen sometimes worked and published his work under the name of John Preston.

John Buschlen’s father, George, died in Los Angeles on May 22, 1948 at 85, and was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. His wife Caroline lived on in Los Angeles until her death in 1962 at 98. John P. Buschlen lived in Los Angeles until his death in 1966 at the age of 78. Brother Charles had died three years earlier.

Sister Libby married an actor, Frank McGrath, whose career consisted of steady work as a bit player in many movies. Late in life he achieved some fame as a regular character on the television series Wagon Train. He died in 1967. His widow Libby Buschlen outlived him by 11 years.

J.P. Buschlen’s life was a fascinating one even though he never achieved the fame and recognition he sought for himself, or for his scheme to organize a bank employees’ union.

He and his family are part of a significant migration of people from Wellington County to southern California.

That is a subject that this column may return to at a later date.


Stephen Thorning