With fame considered the most valuable commodity these days, it's expected that anyone in a position to know intimate details about a celebrity's life is expected to spill the beans in tell-all books and interviews, regardless of the legal or moral ramifications of doing so. That's one of the things that makes the documentary Good Ol' Freda so interesting -- Freda Kelly, who ran the Beatles' fan club and was the secretary for their manager Brian Epstein, has refused to speak about or profit from her account of the eleven years she spent working for the Beatles. But with a desire for her grandson to know her story and her place in rock history, Freda is now ready to talk about her time at the epicenter of Beatlemania, even if she isn't ready to spill all of the beans just yet -- or ever. Watch my review of Good Ol' Freda below (transcript following).
In 1962, a 17-year-old high school dropout from Liverpool, England named Freda Kelly landed her dream job as the secretary to the manager of her favorite local rock band. That fledgling band was the Beatles, sending Freda on the adventure of a lifetime as she ran the band's fan club for eleven years and became the close friend and trusted confidant both of the band as well as their families, who seemed to view her as a little sister or niece. With unwavering loyalty and classic British humility, Freda has remained quiet about her years in the epicenter of Beatlemania and refused efforts to gain fame or profit off of her time working for the world's greatest rock band. But Freda Kelly's story is finally being told in Good Ol' Freda, a charming and entertaining documentary that may be, as Paul McCartney's stepmother puts it, "one of the last true stories of the Beatles that you'll ever be able to hear."
Freda first saw the Beatles at Liverpool's Cavern Club, where she caught them during lunch breaks from her job in a typing pool. She was captivated by the band and became friends with them, becoming such a devoted fan that the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein took notice and asked Freda if she would work for him as his secretary. She jumped at the chance, putting her in Epstein's office where the Beatles were constantly dropping by or hanging out.
Freda started running the Beatles fan club, which eventually took up more and more of her time as its ranks grew to over 70,000 members. Always a fan first, Freda could relate to all the fans writing to the Beatles and did an admirable job attempting to answer their letters and fulfill their requests, from autographs to hair clippings. She also wrote and distributed monthly newsletters full of stories and updates about the band, though she was careful never to intrude on their privacy. Because of her hard work and discretion, Freda was given tremendous access and was a first-hand witness to many of the Beatles' biggest milestones, as well as the band's gradual dissolution as the members began focusing on solo projects.
The biggest thing Good Ol' Freda has going for it is Freda herself, who could scarcely be more charming, unassuming, and adorable, while earning your respect with her dedication to the band and their fans. In fact, Freda is so protective of the band that she continues to work as a secretary today since she refused to cash in on her stories about the band or profit from all the Beatles memorabilia she had when the fan club ended. In fact, Freda reveals that the only reason she decided to do the movie was so her young grandson can someday know that grandma was cool and was a part of rock history.
The other good thing about the movie is that it has the support of the surviving Beatles and the estates of the deceased ones, which allowed the film to use several original Beatles songs that would've cost a fortune to license under other circumstances, as well as a treasure trove of rarely seen photos and other materials that give the film a comprehensive feeling.
If you're looking for dirt or blockbuster revelations, you won't find them in Good Ol' Freda, since Freda certainly isn't telling any of the juicy stuff, including whether she was ever romantically involved with any of the band. But what you do get in Good Ol' Freda is a view of the most popular and influential band in history as simply four young guys with lives, personalities, and families, as well as what it must've been like to watch people you know rocket to superstardom. Good Ol' Freda is a must for Beatles fans and an entertaining though probably not enthralling diversion for more casual listeners, though I'm sure we can all be glad that this chapter of Beatles and music history won't be lost to the ages.