When John Lennon and Paul McCartney promised their fans anything they wanted “with love from me to you,” Freda Kelly was the one who would send it along. Having co-founded the world’s first Beatles fan club with a friend (who quit as soon as she got a boyfriend), Kelly was the logical choice when Beatles manager Brian Epstein needed a secretary for the band. He chose Kelly just weeks before they blew up—before they went on to define the sixties and much of the world we live in today.
Epstein couldn’t have chosen a better, more dedicated employee. Once on payroll, Kelly continued managing the Beatles fan club in her off hours, industriously collecting hair scraps from Beatle barbers and having the boys sign photos whenever they sat down for meetings with Eppy. It might take awhile, but eventually she’d get requested autographs, giving hope to girls around the globe who were begging their postman to “deliver the letter, the sooner the better.” Once, she went so far as to have Ringo sleep on, and then sign a pillowcase. Imagine getting that kind of support from a call center today!
Aside from these fun little anecdotes, there’s not a whole lot that diehard Beatles fans will discover that is new in the bio-documentary Good Ol’ Freda. Most of us already know how dank the Cavern Club was, that John Lennon could barely see and that Epstein’s death led to the unraveling of the group, though Kelly expresses those details in a way that will be thrilling for new or casual fans., telling each story as an insider with a fly-on-the-wall perspective. Kelly had no part in the Beatles’ creative process nor was she romantically entangled with any member of the band, so she doesn’t have to settle scores as she recollects. (In fact, the bands’ dating lives, drug use and internal struggles were refreshingly “off limits” by the fiercely loyal Kelly as a pre-condition to the interviews she gave.)
Even without new information or salacious details, this is a story Beatles fans will enjoy. Like 2009’s tremendous John Lennon biography, Nowhere Boy, this film brings the private side of those uncertain early years into sharp focus—the years when the Beatles were young, innocent and pimply and when fans like Freda could ring Paul McCartney up at home and request songs for their lunchtime Cavern set; catch John Lennon’s famously stern Aunt Mimi scolding him in his backyard; bum rides home from George Harrison after shows; or console Ringo Starr when the task of answering his first nine fan club letters left him overwhelmed.
By staying true to the joy and wonder of those early years, Kelly and director Ryan White present a world in which all things are possible. A world where four guys can go from being a favorite lunchtime band to an iconic musical group that that changes the world—bringing a gushing 17-year-old along for the ride. Kelly is an absolute charmer as she recollects these exploits—everything from stepping out with the Beatles in front of 200,000 fans on their triumphant 1964 return to Liverpool to being asked by Paul to sit near her on the bus ride that became the Magical Mystery Tour.
After the initial thrill of their early success wears off—for Kelly and The Beatles—Kelly talks about her employers the way you or I might talk about people that hang out at the office water cooler. That in itself is pretty remarkable, though I would have liked to have had a little more detail about those later years, just as I would liked to have learned more about Kelly, who seems to have kept her head on straight through a life of great exuberance and a deep, personal tragedy that is mentioned only in passing in the film.
Kelly ended up working for The Beatles for 11 years, which is longer than Ringo Starr was an active member of the band. Starr closes the film out with a personal message for Kelly’s grandchildren, recollecting how important she was to the Beatles and how close she was to their families. It’s obvious from his “peace and love” air kisses that he still has a warm spot for Kelly in his heart. And it may be also obvious, at least from his request a few years ago that fans stop sending him fan mail, that he could still use a little help from her today.
Director: Ryan White
Writer: Jessica Lawson, Ryan White
Starring: Freda Kelly, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr
Release Date: Sept. 6, 2013