Good Ol’ Freda
Runs Fri., Sept. 20–Thurs., Sept. 26 at Sundance Cinemas. Rated PG. 86 minutes.
To the person who mailed a pillowcase to the Beatles Fan Club in 1964 with the request that Ringo Starr sleep on the bedding and autograph it: Perhaps at some point in the past 50 years you have doubted that the signed pillowcase you received back ever really had spent a night beneath a moptop’s shaggy head. It seems unlikely. Surely the Beatles had better things to do; and probably someone was using a rubber stamp for the signatures by then. Well, dig that pillowcase out of its box, because Ringo really slept on it. He had no choice: Freda Kelly brought it to his mum’s house and told him to.
Who is Freda Kelly? Merely the Beatles’ secretary for 11 years during the glory days—actually, she was working for the band before Ringo joined. Her utterly darling story is told in Ryan White’s Good Ol’ Freda, another documentary shard in the saga of the best band ever. Freda’s never cashed in on her proximity to the band; and after all this time, she has some charming stories to tell. As a Liverpool teenager, she attended more than 100 Fab Four gigs at the Cavern Club, which led sharp-eyed Beatles manager Brian Epstein to hire her. (He must have seen that the starstruck 17-year-old also carried a no-nonsense manner that would serve everybody well during the mania to come.) And so Freda went about running the office, riding herd over thousands of pieces of fan mail and making sure the lads sat down with stacks of autograph books to sign. With a fierce Liverpudlian clannishness, she kept secrets and bonded with the Fab families: Ringo’s mother became a maternal figure for the motherless Freda; Paul’s dad taught her how to drink. More personal intimacies involving the boys will remain unspoken, as Freda remains protective of her former charges, even after 40 years of settling into a normal life.
Is this a revelatory documentary? Not at all. The firsthand recollections of what the pre-stardom Beatles were like at the Cavern are great, and Freda makes for an amiable character study in this likable, modest enterprise. The movie also features a handful of Beatles songs on its soundtrack, which a tiny indie like this could not possibly afford to license. It would seem that somebody up there still likes Freda.