Stacks of discount-price children’s shoes lined the walls of a large closet at the Beardsley home in Carmel, Calif., in the 1960s and ’70s — size after size in three types: oxfords for school, patent-leather dress-ups for church and tennis shoes for play.
Frank Beardsley, a retired Navy chief warrant officer, had bought them in large quantity at a Naval base store so that he would always be ready to refit his children’s growing feet.
He had 20 children.
Rather, he and the former Helen North had 20 after merging two very large families in a second marriage for both — he as a widower and she as a widow. Their union prompted wide media coverage and inspired a book and two movies — both titled “Yours, Mine and Ours," the first starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball.
Beardsley died Dec. 11 in Santa Rosa, Calif., his eldest son, Michael, said. He was 97 and lived in Kenwood, Calif.
Beardsley was a 45-year-old father of 10 when he married North, a mother of eight, on Sept. 9, 1961. Reporters and a large crowd flocked to the church in Carmel for the wedding and later to the courthouse in Salinas, Calif., at which each parent adopted the other’s children. Within three years, the couple had two more children.
The attention didn’t end. Tour buses stopped outside their home. A bread company hired the Beardsleys to do a commercial and posted a family photograph on its trucks. Shortly after their marriage, Frank and Helen Beardsley appeared on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight" show. (Carson described their life as “Camp Run Amok," one of theirs sons, Gregory, recalled, adding, “But we were pretty organized, actually.")
In 1965, Helen Beardsley wrote a book, “Who Gets the Drumstick?" It described assembly-line sandwich making and dormlike living in a house that had to be expanded to eight bedrooms and five bathrooms. By then, Frank Beardsley was retired from the Navy and had opened a gift shop. The family later owned three bakeries as well.
Helen Beardsley’s book caught the attention of Ball, whose Desilu Studios bought the rights and adapted it for film. Three years later, in 1968, it released “Yours, Mine and Ours." At the red-carpet premiere in Monterey, Calif., all 22 members of the Beardsley family joined Ball on stage. The characters in the film were also named Beardsley.
A remake starring Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo was released in 2005, to not-so-favorable reviews by the family.
“It’s a cute movie, but I don’t know why they called it ‘Yours, Mine and Ours,’ because it’s not our story," Germaine Robison, one of the 12 daughters, told The Associated Press.
Among the changes, the children were given new names and several were of other ethnicities and adopted.
Francis Louis Beardsley was born in San Francisco on Sept. 11, 1915, to Charles and Mary Grennan Beardsley. He joined the Navy in 1936, rising to chief warrant officer during his 31-year career.
His first wife, the former Frances Albrecht, died in 1960. A year later, he married Helen Brandmeir North; she died in 2000. He is survived by his third wife, the former Dorothy Cushman.
Frank Beardsley is survived by his children, about 60 grandchildren and about 24 great-grandchildren, Michael Beardsley said.
Gregory Beardsley credited his parents with not overplaying the family’s fame.
“My parents," he told The Monterey County Herald, “always used to remind us, ‘You’re only 5 percent of the equation, so 5 percent of a celebrity isn’t too much to brag about.’"