Freda Kelly held one of the most desirable jobs as the Beatles’ fan club secretary, and 50 years later she tells her story in Good Ol’ Freda. The music documentary, which follows her work and gives a glimpse into Beatlemania from an insider point-of-view, kicks off its theatrical tour in Los Angeles this weekend and makes its way across the U.S. through the fall.
The movie is the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign and has had some stellar reviews since its premiere at SXSW in Austin, TX in 2010. Although there have been a number of documentaries on the Beatles, Good Ol’ Freda is one of the first to tackle it through the eyes of a largely unknown yet essential member of the group. In the opening moments of the film, the Beatles’ 1963 Christmas album is playing and George Harrison can be heard giving thanks to “Freda Kelly in Liverpool” and the other three band mates top it off with a “Good Ol’ Freda” shout.
So, that’s what that was all about.
The Beatles were together for ten years, but Kelly stayed with them for 11, playing the role as the confidant, friend, and fan until the end. In the early days when the band would play for crowds as small as 30 people at the downstairs Cavern Club, she would sneak out during her office job lunch breaks to see them perform, and come back sweaty from all the dancing. The Liverpudlian was only 17 when they plucked her from the crowd to become the fan club secretary, and it’s hard not to be a little jealous of her luck.
It’s fascinating how fan clubs were something of an anomaly in the way Kelly ran her ship. Despite receiving thousands of fan mail a week, Kelly would go through each letter and respond to their requests—from sending actually signed autographs from the Beatles to locks of George Harrison’s hair. The lengths she would go to were just evident of how much of a fan she was herself, and what is part of a romantic and bygone era of fandom. (It seems unlikely nowadays that a fan could even get a signed autograph in the mail from a pop supernova.)
The film takes a lighthearted look at how much fun the band and their team were having when they were coming up, all up to the bitterness of their fallout. Kelly kept mum about the lives of her beloved band, even after she stopped working for them. Most of her friends and coworkers still hadn’t known about her glamorous past career until she decided to hook up with director Ryan White to tell her story as a gift to her grandson. Through old photographs, recordings, and interviews with tour managers and family members, we get to see how much of Kelly’s work was needed. She was much more than just a secretary; she was family and someone who made frequent visits to the homes of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr’s parents to keep them in the loop about their sons’ lives while they were away touring.
It’s hard not to watch this film and smile. There’s a sweetness to Kelly and there is some depth given to other people in their camp, including their tour manager, Brian Epstein. However, the film skims the surface of the truth, and Kelly’s interviews–although charming–don’t divulge too many secrets. She’s still cautious to criticize the Beatles members, and slightly hints at some nefarious activities. It may though just show why the Beatles trusted her so much. Some of the same photos resurface throughout the documentary, which become a bit repetitious, and her descriptions of events start sounding similar as well. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the movie still delivers an engrossing and delightful narrative for even the most casual Beatles fan.