Frank Beardsley, the resourceful and military-disciplined father of 20 whose blended family inspired a book and two Hollywood movies titled "Yours, Mine and Ours," died Tuesday at a Santa Rosa hospital.
Beardsley, who co-raised his family in a great, orderly house in Carmel and retired to the Valley of the Moon in the mid-1980s, was 97.
His third wife, Dorothy Beardsley of Kenwood, was at his bedside when he died at Memorial Hospital. Though his name and story were known by millions, she said, the devoted golfer and Roman Catholic she married in Sonoma County 12 years ago "led a private life."
Frank Beardsley's life became anything but that when, as a 45-year-old widowed father of 10 children, he married Helen North, a widowed mother of 8, in September of 1961. They adopted each other's children and gave birth to two more.
The first movie about their family, made in 1968 and starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, suggested that the Beardsley kids and the North kids initially resisted the marriage.
Mere fiction, said Susie Pope of Napa, whose was 8 when her dad married Helen North.
"In real truth," said Pope, who runs a Napa Valley bed-and-breakfast with her husband, Ken, "all of us kids were so excited about the union of our parents that we actually got them to bump up their wedding date by several months, because we couldn't wait that long."
The wedding produced a Catholic family with 18 children the youngest only a few months old and oldest 15 years. With the births of two new arrivals, there were 12 girls, 8 boys.
Pope, now 60, said proudly, "I was 9th from the top, 10th from the bottom. I like to say I was the most well-adjusted. I certainly didn't get spoiled and I didn't get overlooked."
Home was the big house in Carmel that had been run by Frank Beardsley and his first wife, the former Frances Louise Albrecht. She died in 1960 from a coma brought on by undiagnosed diabetes.
Suddenly home nearly twice as many people, it had to be made bigger. Susie Pope remembers her dad and new mother setting out have it expanded to eight bedroom, five bathrooms and three living rooms.
Her father wanted to build a master bedroom at the highest point of the house, one with a huge walk-in bathroom and closet. His new wife resisted, saying that with all those children to raise, such a room would be extravagant.
Pope remembers her dad responded that it was because of all those children that the two of them would need a place of their own, a refuge. "None of us children were allowed to go into that room unless we were invited," Pope said.
She remembers her father, a career Navy man, shopping at a base store and purchasing great quantities of on-sale kids' shoes of three types: oxfords for Catholic school, patent-leather dress-ups for church and tennis shoes for weekend play.
"It didn't matter which size" her dad bought, she said. "Someone would grow into them eventually."
When a kid needed a new pair of shoes, Frank Beardsley would take him or her into the master bedroom closet, stacked high with discounted shoes. Daughter Pope recalled, "He'd look at your feet and say, &‘You look like a 7.'"