It’s August, and that means it’s Summer Under the Stars on Turner Classic Movies!
Each day during the month of August, TCM will highlight a different star, and play their films all day.
My Summer Star This Week: Henry Fonda
Why I Love Yours, Mine and Ours
I love Yours, Mine and Ours for many reasons. My family loves this film for many reasons. Of course, seeing Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball together on screen probably ranks as number one. Hank and Lucy are a hard team to beat.
But another reason we love this film is because it’s based on a true story. If you’ve seen the film, you understand why that’s so miraculous. And if you haven’t seen the film, you’ll understand after we go through the plot:
Right off the bat, we meet Fonda’s character: he’s Frank Beardsley, a naval officer based in San Francisco. His wife recently passed away, leaving Frank with 10 children to care for.
Cut to Lucy, playing widow Helen North, whose husband just recently passed away, leaving her with 8 children to care for. Helen is moving her brood from Washington to San Francisco, where she just got a job on the naval base as a nurse.
Do you see where this is going?
Frank and Helen meet (thanks in part to Frank’s buddy Darrell, played by the always loveable Van Johnson), and go on an amazing first date. Trouble is, each is reluctant to tell the other about all their kids. As Helen’s oldest daughter Colleen points out.
“No man wants a liaison with a woman with 8 children!”
Frank and Helen Come Clean
It doesn’t take long for Helen and Frank to come clean with each other. And the realization that they would have a grand total of 18 children if they end up together is staggering. Almost enough to make Frank and Helen stop seeing each other.
Ultimately, Frank and Helen like each other so much that they fall in love, and decide they can handle all those children together.
And if any couple can handle 18 children, it’s Frank and Helen.
The Beardlsey Children vs. the North Children
Initially, the kids from each family are reluctant to see their parents get married. The oldest Beardsley boys, Mike, Rusty, and Greg, even spike Helen’s drink at the family dinner where she meets them all.
As you can imagine, this paves the way for some of Lucy’s legendary physically comedy.
But Helen and Frank do marry, and from here on out, the film just gets more fascinating and fun as we watch the family figure out how to live with each other, and learn to like each other.
Yours, Mine and Ours? Adjusting to Family Life
One of the first things Frank and Helen must learn how to do is shop for and feed a family of 20 people. The sheer number of oatmeal canisters, eggs, and milk (20 quarts!) that they have to buy is staggering.
When Frank and Helen check out at the grocery store, they have four carts full of food. As the smart aleck grocery clerk who rings them up jokes to his buddy:
“It’s an emergency the Beardsleys are here! More boxes!….”
The grand total of their groceries comes out to $126.43. In today’s dollars, that’s about a $1,100 grocery bill.
As a Navy man, Frank uses his training to effectively organize such tasks as the morning routine. Don’t miss the assembly line scene where everyone does his or her part in preparing lunches for the day, and getting breakfast on the table.
Unity at Last
Moments of solidarity, such as when eldest Beardsley son Mike helps young North son Phillip out of a mud puddle and onto the school bus, bring the kids from each family together.
Well, that and learning that Helen is pregnant.
When the family doctor (Tom Bosely) delivers the news on Christmas day, Helen can’t beleive it:
“Doctor, this is Christmas, not April Fool…are you sure?!”
Frank is away at sea for most of Helen’s pregnancy, so it’s up to the Beardsley and North children to unite, and help Helen prepare for the new baby.
The most touching scene in the film occurs when Helen goes into labor, and Frank—now home—and the kids work together to get her to the hospital in time. This insightful and profound scene shows parenthood at its best, as Fonda’s Frank calmly works through the chaos of the moment and still finds time to give Helen’s eldest daughter, Colleen, some important dating advice that’s as relevant today as it was in 1968.
Making it Legal
The predictable ending of the film culminates with the birth of child number 19, and Frank adopting all of Helen’s children, and Helen adopting all of Frank’s children.
The excitement everyone feels at being legally united is summed up perfectly by little Phillip, who proudly exclaims after the judge’s pronouncement:
And with the family happy and legally as one, the film ends.
Yours, Mine and Ours: A True Story
Yours, Mine and Ours was based on the real life story of Frank Beardsley and Helen North. Frank really had 10 children, Helen really had 8 children, and the film actually stayed true to the real names of all the kids.
In fact, in the film, when they show Frank’s and Helen’s wedding invitation with all the North and Beardsley children’s name on it, we are seeing the actual invitation, designed by Frank Beardsley himself, to the real-life Beardsley-North wedding.
Yours, Mine and Ours: Book vs. Film
Many of the situations in Yours, Mine and Ours, though dramatized a bit, are straight from Helen’s book, Who Gets the Drumstick? But there are also several ways the film differs from the book.
Perhaps the greatest difference between the book and the film is that in real life, the Beardsley and North children were excited about their parents marrying each other: from the very beginning of Frank’s and Helen’s courtship, there was no reluctance or disgruntlement from the children on either side. So much so that when Helen first met Frank’s children at a family dinner, Mike, Rusty, and Greg Beardsley used their very best “company manners” to impress her that night.
Very different from what we see in the film, when the three boys attempt to get Helen blind drunk by spiking her drink. (This scene was written especially for Lucy, and meant to evoke memories of the Vitameatavegamin commercial in I Love Lucy, which you can watch here.)
Despite the differences between real life and reel life, the whole Beardsley family publically approved of the film and enjoyed it.
Lucy got so close with the Beardsley family that she took them to Disneyland.
Yours, Mine and Ours: Lucy's Pet Project
There are differing versions as to the exact year that Lucille Ball bought the rights to Helen North Beardsley’s story. Some sources say Lucy acquired the rights as early as 1959, years before Helen’s book, Who Gets the Drumstick?, was published in 1965. It’s not impossible, as Frank’s and Helen’s story was a familiar one in the US even before the publication of Helen’s book.
What is certain is that Lucy adored the story for many years before Yours, Mine and Ours was finally made. Perhaps the feel-good story of the Beardsleys particularly touched Lucy because she always believed in and recognized the importance of family. And Lucy, after struggling for years to conceive with husband Desi Arnaz, appreciated the joy of children more than most. (Lucy was a month shy of turning 40 when Lucie, her first child, was born.
Lucy's Message to the World
Lucy also loved the messages at the core of the film—the importance of family love, and the heroes that everyday moms and dads truly are. To Lucy, these were important messages to stress during the changing times of the 1960s. As Lucy put it:
“They [movies] have gone too far now, and we are all so satiated with the extremes, with what they call reality. I refuse to admit this degradation is reality. I’m also getting tired of mini-skirted beauties running the world.”
Yours, Mine and Ours: A Surprise Hit
Lucille Ball didn’t think Yours, Mine and Ours would be much of a money-maker in this new world run by “mini-skirted beauties.” As such, Lucy didn’t make any tax shelters for the potential income she and her production company, Deslilu, could receive as the producer of the film.
That ended up being a mistake.
Yours, Mine and Ours surprised Lucy when it turned out to be a huge success, earning $26 million at the box office. (Approximately $182 million today.) Yours, Mine and Ours was ultimately the 11th highest grossing film of 1968.
Due to the film’s success and revenue, her producer status, and lack of tax shelter, most of Lucy’s earnings went to taxes, which frustrated the always business-savy Lucy to no end.
Henry Fonda's Enthusiasm for Yours, Mine and Ours
There was no question that Lucy would play Helen North, but several other actors were under consideration for the role of Frank Beardsley. Before Henry Fonda was cast, Fred MacMurray, Desi Arnaz, and Jimmy Stewart were all in the running. Any one of these actors would have done great work, but it’s doubtful any of them were as enthusiastic about the part as Fonda: Hank was apparently so excited about the prospect of playing Frank Beardlsey and working with Lucy that he asked for the role, and got it.
Hank and Lucy: Henrylu Productions?
The history of Hank and Lucy went way back. The two had already made one film together during their early Hollywood careers, The Big Street (1942), and even dated briefly before either of them became super stars.
At the time the two dated, Hank was living with roommate Jimmy Stewart, and Lucy was good friends with Ginger Rogers, who was dating Jimmy. So Lucy and Hank often tagged along and made it a foursome.
The two never dated seriously, but years later, Hank joked that:
“If I’d behaved myself, they might have named that studio Henrylu.”
Here's a Story...
The great success of Yours, Mine and Ours actually paved the way for a super iconic television show. Can you guess which one?
Yep The Brady Bunch (1969-1974).
The storyline similarities between the film and the show are obvious. And once Yours, Mine and Ours proved there was an audience for such a show, it was full steam ahead for The Brady Bunch.