John Lennon and George Harrison are gone. So are manager Brian Epstein, road manager and Apple head Neil Aspinall, press manager Derek Taylor, Maureen Starkey, Linda McCartney and countless other witnesses to history. And Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr have spun their stories dozens of times in print, on celluloid and on vinyl. But then there’s Freda Kelly, the group’s secretary and fan-club manager, who, after 40 years, has finally chosen to tell her tale, perhaps the last great firsthand account of the Fab Four.
Kelly worked for the group in Liverpool from late 1961 – before “Richie” replaced Pete Best – through 1964, and though she didn’t make the move with them to London, she continued to serve as their Liverpool secretary and fan-club manager until 1972, almost two years after the group disbanded. It was quite a ride for a girl who had been a 17-year-old groupie when Epstein (“Eppy,” as she calls him) plucked her from the Scouse secretarial ranks.
The world is full of Beatle movies, and Good Ol’ Freda, directed by Ryan White, certainly isn’t the best. It regrettably contains no insightful interviews with McCartney, Starr or George Martin; it confuses some chronology; and it contains far too few Beatle songs, using mostly original versions of songs the group covered, because of limited licensing privileges. However, the doc is unique in two ways: It is a study of someone who never sought to capitalize on fame, and it’s a careful analysis of the business and personal, not the musical, sides of the group. Not everyone will view it as an informational feast, but Beatle fans will eat it up like jam butties.
Instead of giving us glimpses into the group’s creativity, Kelly shares minor but insightful observations about Epstein, the Beatles’ parents, the management of the fan club and even Lennon’s first marriage. In that regard, this is a film about process and personalities – including Kelly herself, who remained loyal, modest and discreet when other confidantes and business associates were getting rich off gossip and memorabilia.
“I could have been a very, very wealthy woman. I’d have been a millionairess if I’d have kept everything,” she says. “Over a period of time, I gave it all away. I don’t regret that, you know, because … I actually handed it to Beatles fans. … I think fame and money doesn’t mean anything. All the wealth, you know, doesn’t cure cancer, does it? I worked with a lot of good people. I did. I loved them.”
And she made it easier for us to love them too.
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