Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Good Ol' Freda

You don't have to rush out to the theater to catch "Good Ol' Freda," Ryan White's breezy documentary about the Beatles' secretary Freda Kelly, but I hope you'll make a point of finding it when it hits the tube.

In 1960, Freda was an ordinary Liverpool girl of seventeen who snuck away from her job in a typing pool to catch the bands who played the Cavern Club. Her favorites were the Beatles: John, Paul, George and (at the time) Pete Best. Their manager, Brian Epstein, hired her as his personal secretary, and assigned to her the duty of responding to the hundreds and soon thousands of letters they received every day. When she created an official fan club, she made the huge mistake of giving her family home as the mailing address. This infuriated her father no end, as finding his own bills and correspondence in the sacksful of post proved nearly impossible.

Giving her first (and last) extended interviews on this magical decade from her youth, Freda Kelly evinces the qualities Epstein undoubtedly saw in her all those years ago. First and foremost, she was a fan herself (though not a fanatic), so she knew where the girls who wrote in were coming from. She could sweet-talk the boys into doing anything for her (signing endless autograph books, letting her pluck strands of hair, even sleeping on a pillowcase a girl sent in), but knew how to put everyone else to work (nobody was allowed to sit around idly). She clung to a characteristically Liverpudlian sense of loyalty, and conducted herself in all matters with the highest values of integrity and deep respect for privacy. Her official letters to "Beatle People" in the monthly newsletter of the fan club, relating innocent pieces of behind-the-scenes gossip but demarcating other subjects off-limits, show a maturity far beyond her years. They're actually quite touching.

Although Freda could have kept all sorts of paraphernalia and sold it for big bucks later, she gave away all but four boxes of scrapbooks to Beatle fans, finishing her last response to a letter three full years after the band had broken up. She's still a secretary today, and most of her friends and colleagues have (or had) no idea of her famous past. She's an absolute delight to spend time with; the film's 86 minutes fly by on a soundtrack peppered with Beatles classics and other apt selections from the era. There are tons of laughs and I had a smile on my face from start to finish, but by the end, I also had a lump in my throat. Everything about this well-spoken, unassuming woman - very pretty in her day - exudes character. And White manages to comment poignantly on the passage of time without saying a word.

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