April 12, 2013 – Imagine this. At the tender age of 17 you are offered the most coveted secretarial position in the world, which involves working for quartet of musicians known as the Beatles. That’s what happened to Freda Kelly, a timid teen from Liverpool who was thrown into the whirlwind of what would become Beatlemania in 1962. A follower of the “boys” from the Cavern Club days of 1961, Kelly was a fan first, before the Beatles became famous, and before she accepted the position offered to her by Brian Epstein, whom she called Eppy.
Ryan White’s lively documentary “Good Ol’ Freda” shines the spotlight on the behind the scenes star who breaks her silence after 50 years, and offers a front row seat to the craziness that became her life for the next decade. The film debuted to standing ovations at SXSW in March.
Kelly had been approached several times through the years, offered multiple book and movie deals, and turned them away. Last year, she approached a family friend (White) about making a film, explaining that she wanted to document her memories for her three-year-old grandson before she forgot them. She says she wants him to know that she was young once, and had a lot of fun in the 1960s. Kelly answered most questions presented to her in the film, but not all, claiming some things will remain private.
I am thankful for her change of heart, and that she did answer most questions. How else would we know that she valued the friendships she made with the Fab Four much more than money, and when they broke up, she gave away all of the memorabilia she collected through the years to true Beatle fans, when selling those items could have allowed her family live in grand style for the rest of their days. Kelly hasn’t retired yet, and at 67, still works as a secretary in Liverpool in a job she says she enjoys, but isn’t as much fun. A loyal and honest person, Kelly not only had close relationships with the group, but their families, as well. She lost her mother at an early age, and explained that to Ringo’s mum, she became an adopted daughter.
So, how did the film, which opened the 2013 WXPN Film Festival last night, get its name? Kelly coordinated the group’s fan club, and was in charge of crafting the recorded messages The Beatles sent to its members each Christmas. On the first recording, George Harrison gives thanks to “Freda Kelly in Liverpool,” and John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr together exclaimed, “Good ol’ Freda!” The rest, as they say, is history.
As the head of the fan club, she made sure all of the letters the Beatles received were answered, and try to handle as many requests from fans as she could. When she received a pillow case from a fan asking her if Ringo could sleep on it, for example, she approached Ringo’s mother to make sure he did it and sent it back to the fan afterwards, as requested. She visited barber shops after the group would get haircuts to collect their hair to send to fans. She’d also get requests for pieces of clothing and towels, and even fired a group of young girls hired to help her for sending locks of their own hair and claiming it was from one of the Beatles. It wasn’t honest, she said, and after they did that, she couldn’t trust them any longer.
Kelly’s story is as endearing as it is entertaining. Presently, “Good Ol” Freda” is making the rounds on the film festival circuit in the United States and Canada, where it’s being touted as a “rousing crowd pleaser”. For those who remember the early days of the Beatles, and their evolution over their 10 years together, the film is a great walk down memory lane. Beatle fans won’t be disappointed. Watch for the film’s wider release soon.
An interesting side note, Philadelphia’s former news anchor Larry Kane, who toured with the Beatles to cover their story in 1964 and 1965, spoke a little about the film before it started. He explained that aside from the movies the Beatles made, such as “A Hard Day’s Night”, “Help”, “Yellow Submarine”, “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Let it Be”, “Good Ol’ Freda” is the only movie with Beatle songs in the soundtrack.