Freda-Mania, by Rita Cannon
Ryan White’s documentary Good Ol’ Freda is one of the most relentlessly good-natured films I’ve ever seen in my life. A chronicle of the experiences of Freda Kelly, who served as the secretary to the Beatles from their days playing the Cavern Club in 1960 until their breakup in 1970, the film is a light, fun glide across the surface of the band’s history, with a particular focus on the fan culture surrounding them. Freda Kelly tells most of the stories in her own words, and is such a such a warm, charming presence that you’re glad to hear her tell them, even if most of them are probably old news to any serious Beatles fan.
Before Kelly became the band’s secretary, she was the president of the their fan club. One of the most interesting aspects of Good Ol’ Freda is its portrait of teen girl fandom – in all its hysterical, screechy beauty – and the way celebrity culture has changed between the sixties and now. The amount of respect with which Freda treated the sometimes bizarre requests of her fellow fans is weird, but sort of heart-warming. When one girl sent in a pillow case and asked that it be returned to her after Ringo Starr had slept on it, Kelly went to the trouble of going to the Starr family home and making sure Ringo actually followed through. She also fired an entire team of female assistants when it was revealed that some of them has been passing off locks of their own hair as that of the Beatles. But far from seeming crazy or petty, we sense that Kelly just took her job really seriously. She didn’t see the band’s legions of fans as a crazed hormonal horde; she considered herself one of them. She understood the joy that Beatles fandom brought to these young women, and considered the task of mediating their interactions with the band to be a privilege. The film makes much of the fact that Kelly never cashed in on her connection to the Beatles by writing a tell-all book or giving any previous interviews, and while that fact is certainly admirable, I found her lack of cynicism dealing with fans to be her most admirable trait. I wouldn’t have blamed Kelly for selling some of the official fan club merchandise that had collected in her attic by the time the band broke up. But the fact that she gave away almost all of it to club members is a nice testament to her dedication to the band.
Anyone looking for shocking revelations about the Beatles’ work or personal lives is bound to be disappointed. (The juiciest gossip divulged is when Kelly admits she was vaguely awar that John Lennon cheated on Cynthia Powell before they were married and kept quiet about it because she didn’t think it was any of her business.) But Kelly’s stories are often delightful. Combine that with tons of rare photos and great music from the Beatles and other bands of the era, and you have a breezy, amiable doc that leaves you with a smile on your face.