Review: Trouble with Father – The Stu Erwin Show: Jackie Knows All (1951)


Directed by: Howard Bretherton | 28 minutes | comedy | Actors: Stuart Erwin, June Collyer, James Dean, Sheila James, Martin Milner, Emory Parnell, Ann E. Todd

In the early 1950s, the film world suddenly got a competitor: television. Countless series were produced in those years. For many young stars, these series were an opportunity to find their place in Hollywood, to gain experience and get to know the right people. James Dean also made a living in his early years as an actor through television work. More than thirty series are on his record. In most of them he only has minor roles. The fact that the man who later became a legend shows up in these series has ensured that years after the shootings are taken up again and are interesting bonus material for fans of James Dean.

“The Stu Erwin Show” – also known as “Trouble with Father” – ran from 1950 to 1955 and centered on actor Stu Erwin and his wife June Collyer (they were also married in daily life; they basically played themselves ). The ups and downs in their family (which was fictional) are put under a microscope. In the episode where Dean shows up, “Jackie Knows All,” a boyfriend of daughter Jackie (Sheila James) tells her that she becomes clairvoyant if she buys a book from him. Of course the book doesn’t work, but the two come up with another way of predicting the future: they eavesdrop on others so that they gather information that no one else can know. She listens to Drexel (Martin Milner), the boyfriend of her sister Joyce (Ann E. Todd) while arguing with his buddy Randy (Dean) when he asks Joyce out. While her sister lingers around the phone and worries that Drexel won’t call again, Jackie tells her he will call at seven o’clock.

Central to the story, however, is the fact that a mysterious Mr. Smith comes to the Erwins’ door to buy their piece of land. Mother June does not even know they own a piece of land and Father Stu tries to approach Smith for an interview but cannot get hold of him. However, Jackie manages to figure out who is behind this mysterious sale and together with her father she plays a game to make the purchase price as favorable as possible for them.

‘Jackie Knows All’ is a short film in which everyday situations within a family are revealed in a humorous way. It is one of the forerunners of the subgenre in which series like ‘Family Ties’, ‘Growing Pains’, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’ and you name them all, would later reign supreme. Compared to its later equivalents, ‘The Stu Erwin Show’ is good and innocent and the problems are a bit lackluster. But that makes sense since we are talking about a series from America in the early 1950s. Back then, TV was mainly entertainment; it shouldn’t get too complicated. The fact remains that because of this everydayness the tension is not too tense: in fact pressure is being done about nothing.

The fact that this video is worthwhile has to do with the fact that interesting actors participate. Ann E. Todd and Martin Milner would later cause a furore in several films. But the most interesting thing about ‘Jackie Knows All’ is of course the presence of James Dean, even if it is only short but sweet.

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