Frank Beardsley, a widower whose happy, if harried, domestic life, inspired a book and two movies after he and his second wife adopted each other's children — there were 18 in all — and had two more together, died Dec. 11 in Santa Rosa. He was 97.
The couple was married in Carmel in 1961 and set up house on a hill overlooking Carmel Mission. Mr. Beardsley worked at the Naval Postgraduate School.
Mr. Beardsley's son, Michael Beardsley, confirmed the death, but the family did not disclose the cause.
Mr. Beardsley, a Navy chief warrant officer with a brood of 10, lost his first wife to undiagnosed diabetes in 1960. The next year, he married Helen North, a mother of eight whose husband died in a Navy plane crash. They welcomed each other's children, who ranged in age from 6 months to 15 years, before raising the tally to 20. In all, there were 12 girls and eight boys.
At the time, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that the Beardsleys had the "undisputed largest military family in the nation's history." Helen Beardsley's book-length account of their home life, "Who Gets the Drumstick?" (1965), was made into two movies with the title "Yours, Mine and Ours."
Hollywood took liberties with the Beardsleys' courtship and marriage. Both comedies — a 1968 version starring Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball and a 2005 version with Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo — played up the children's sitcom-worthy efforts to sabotage the potential
Helen Beardsley's "Who Gets the Drumstick?," in contrast, was a warmhearted human interest tale that was first excerpted in Good Housekeeping magazine. It described the children embracing their new parents from the start and explained how the family managed to function. Their working philosophy boiled down to the motto of the "Three Musketeers" — "All for one, one for all" — but modified for a bigger troupe.
Mr. Beardsley once described the book as a love story but also a "Navy story." The family, which lived in a specially renovated home in Carmel , that sprawled to eight bedrooms and five bathrooms, relied on military-style organization to keep up with workaday chores. There were assembly line teams to wash dishes and make school lunches.
Daughter Susie Pope told the Santa Rosa paper that her father bought children's shoes in bulk when they went on sale at the Navy base stores. For each child, there was one pair for Catholic school, another pair for church and athletic shoes for the weekend.
Beardsley was inexact when selecting shoe sizes for his children, but it didn't matter. "Someone would grow into them eventually," she said.
The family was featured in advertisements for a local bakery, which in turn supplied them with a year's worth of bread. According to Helen Beardsley's book, the Navy listed the Beardsley home as a restaurant, allowing them to buy food at wholesale prices from a nearby military commissary.
Francis Louis Beardsley was born Sept. 11, 1915, in San Francisco and was the ninth of 12 children. He served in the Navy from 1936 to 1968, eventually working at the Naval Postgraduate School.
His first wife was the former Frances Albrecht. Helen Beardsley died in 2000. Mr. Beardsley later married Dorothy Cushman.
In addition to his wife and daughter Pope, Beardsley is survived by children Mike Beardsley, Charles (Rusty) Beardsley, Greg Beardsley, Rosemary Richter, Louise Ingram, Colleen North, Mary Beardsley, Janet North, Nicholas North, Tom North, Ronnie Beardsley, Jean Murphy, Phillip North, Germaine Robison, Gerald North, Teresa Wyble, Joan Rodewald, Joseph Beardsley and Helen Vanucchi, about 60 grandchildren and about 24 great-grandchildren.