Freda Kelly seemed a bit more sensible than the other girls who hung around Liverpool’s Cavern Club, their hair in curlers right up until the moment the band they’d come to see, the hometown Beatles, took the stage. She was a fan but she wasn’t inane, she enjoyed the music but didn’t swoon at the thought of actually talking to a real Beatle. So manager Brian Epstein approached the just-turned 17-year-old about becoming the band’s secretary.
She turned out to be a model employee, a practical and dedicated servant who was able to handle massive amounts of correspondence while serving as a liaison between band members and their families as the unprecedented tsunami of Beatlemania swept them through the 1960s. Freda was a fixer, an improviser and a woman of uncommon empathy who, in her off hours, ran the Beatles fan club with aspirations of fulfilling any halfway reasonable request. In other words,if a fan mailed in a pillowcase asking for Ringo to sleep on it, Freda would take it to Ringo and tell him to sleep on it. And then she’d ring Ringo’s mum and ask her to make sure her mop top slept on it. Freda was a woman of such integrity that she fired helpers who cheated and substituted a lock of their own hair for one of the boys’. She was so rigorous that she answered fan letters for years after the group disbanded because she understood that was how she would want to be treated.
In other words, she was a prize and a delight. And she was circumspect. She never told tales. Until now. Sort of.
“That’s private!” she admonishes director Ryan White when he asks her if any of her rotating crushes on the boys ever culminated in anything besides a brotherly nudge. She determined a long time ago that even Beatles deserve what Hillary Clinton once called a “zone of privacy” and even 40, 50 years on she’s determined not to betray confidences. So those looking for salacious dirt on John, Paul, George and, as she calls him, “Richie,” might be better served with any number of speculative biographies and alternative histories. If you want to know how much John sometimes hated Paul, this is not the place to look. (Though Freda does remember her regret at not being able to tip off her girlfriend that John was secretly married and probably not interested in a long-term relationship.)
Not that Freda doesn’t have plenty of stories that she is willing to share. It’s just that they’re not of the salacious variety. Some are funny and speak to the dynamic within the band - like the time John gives her the sack but the others don’t, and he has to apologize before she will take him back. Some are simply heartwarming, as when Epstein and the boys decide to move their operations from Liverpool to London, causing Freda to tender her resignation because, well, her father won’t let her move. After a quick huddle, they say she can carry on working from Liverpool, and even take over Epstein’s old office.
Filled with old photos and drenched in nostalgia, with a host of interviewees to attest to her good humor and efficiency, Good Ol’ Freda is a slight movie that exists largely because of the goodwill of its subject, who never felt impelled to convert her proximity to greatness into monetary success, or even much notoriety. All those years ago, Brian Epstein made an excellent choice: Freda is certainly one of the good ones.
While the film reports that she still works as a secretary, she’s in Arkansas this weekend for a screening at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (and maybe an event at Little Rock’s Market Street Cinema).
Good Ol’ Freda 88 Cast: Documentary, with Freda Kelly Director: Ryan White Rating: PG, for thematic material and smoking Running time: 86 minutes
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 10/11/2013
Print Headline: Good Ol’ Freda