Charming Beatles Secretary Breaks Long Silence in Good Ol' Freda
Good Ol' Freda
Freda Kelly/Magnolia Pictures Ringo, Freda, and George during the filming of "Magical Mystery Tour."
Directed by Ryan White
Magnolia Pictures, 87mins, $26.98.
Few people could have gotten the famously flinty John Lennon to literally get down on his knees to beg for something. But he did it backstage at a show to a girl barely out of her teens because he wanted her to change her mind about something -- and not what you think.
The girl in question was Freda Kelly, secretary of the official Beatles fan club and all-around Girl Friday. After Kelly was unable to reach the Fabs' dressing room due to a crush of people, she found herself in the adjoining space for the Moody Blues... and had a few drinks with the lads.
When she was able to make it back to the Beatles, a churlish Lennon fired Kelly on the spot (he later said it was "a joke," she disagrees). Buoyed by the booze, Kelly asked the other three Beatles if she was indeed canned, and they all answered with a resounding "no!" Kelly turned to Lennon, telling him he could take care of his own fan mail from now on since she only worked for the other three.
When Lennon asked what he could do to get her to change her mind, Kelly said "get down on your knees and beg me." Ever the contrarian, Lennon managed to bend just one to make amends that night.
It's one of many wonderful stories Kelly, who worked for the band and was a central part of their lives from 1961-72, tells in this charming and fascinating documentary. Its title comes from the shout out the band gave to her on their 1963 fan club Christmas record.
Freda Kelly/Magnolia Pictures Freda and Paul
But those looking for more salacious material on the Beatles won't find it here. Kelly - who has never written a book, gone on the convention circuit, gave away most of her memorabilia now worth millions to fans, and participated in precious few interviews- keeps the remembrances warm.
Even her own daughter, interviewed here, talks about how she could never get Kelly to discuss her tenure with the group (as did her son, who it's mentioned has passed away). And Kelly herself says she is doing it only now for her grandchild so one day he'll know that his grandmother did have an exciting life at one point.
The most titillating things get is when the offscreen interviewer asks Kelly if she ever dated one of the Beatles. "No," she says, giggling. Then "pass," then "that's personal...there are stories but I don't want anybody's hair falling out or turning curly!" Believe me, it's much more charming onscreen than it seems here.
Of particular interest is Kelly's remembrances of the first few years of Beatlemania, which make up the bulk of the doc. After the Beatles operation moved to London, Kelly stayed in Liverpool some of the time at the behest of her ailing and wary father.
Hand-picked by Brian Epstein to handle official Beatles Fan Club operations after he signed the band, the then-17-year-old Kelly had indeed landed a dream job that made her the envy of her Cavern Club-dwelling peers. Still, there was a learning curve. When she innocently listed her own home address as the destination for all fan club correspondence, her exasperated father was for a while unable to find his own bills amidst the hundreds of letters arriving daily.
But she also tells about the bizarre things fans would send in the mail or requests. Kelly would place mats on the ground when the Beatles' barber went to work so she could fulfill just a fraction of requests for their shorn follicles.
And when one fan sends a pillowcase with the request that Starr sleep on it and then sign it, Kelly dutifully tromps over to his house and has the bewildered drummer do just that.
And she would routinely stay up until the wee hours of the morning hand-writing responses to fan mail, eventually discarding the rolling stamp that produced fake band signatures because she felt it was cheating.
But by working efficiently, in the band's best interests, and being a fan without being an overzealous one, she earned respect and love from not only Epstein and the group, but the Beatle parents and parent figures with whom she had a lot of contact.
Story continues on the next page.