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'Good Ol' Freda' offers humanizing tidbits from the Beatles' secretary

Freda Kelly, who was the Beatles' fan mail secretary from 1963 to 1972, tells humanizing stories about her former employers in "Good Ol' Freda."

Beatles secretary Freda Kelly is caught between Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Credit: Freda Kelly Beatles secretary Freda Kelly is caught between Ringo Starr and George Harrison.
Credit: Freda Kelly

‘Good Ol’ Freda’
Director: Ryan White
Genre: Documentary
3 (out of 5) Globes

Right now — as in, within the last few weeks — the trend in documentaries about famous people is to find the normal, even boringly so, person beneath the myth. “Our Nixon” threads up unseen footage of Tricky Dick looking and sounding dull (except when he talks “All in the Family”). “Salinger” argues that J.D. Salinger was less of a mad recluse than he let on (but also with a thing for teen girls.) “Good Ol’ Freda” adds to the towering pile of Beatles-related cinema the revelations of one Freda Kelly, who served as the band’s fan club secretary from 1963 to 1972 (or about two years after their breakup). Though she gravitated toward them because she was just another fan, she knew the real them, and the real them was, like most, much more mundane than the legend.

Kelly herself comes off as just a regular person. She’s modest and friendly, chuckling lightly as she digs deep into reminiscences and monstrously famous people observed first-hand. Her reluctance to not dish for four decades, to not profit over her storied position, seems genuinely rooted in the desire for a normal life. It’s fitting with the laidback vibe that not everything she says — or almost none of it — is earth-quaking. There’s nothing on the level of (again) “Salinger,” which threatens to overhaul how we view cultural icons.

It does, however, offer a more human view of everyone, along with allowing us to see how major events were felt as they happened. There’s an immediacy to Kelly’s recollections, where major history just feels like the everyday. The first wave of Beatles music may have rocked the world, but it still felt only marginally superior to much of the era’s music. She recalls the thrill of being a fellow Liverpudlian and seeing “Love Me Do” get to No. 12, not No. 1.

She has little dirt, especially after she elected to stay in Liverpool as they relocated to London, which allowed for less contact than a Beatlemaniac would desire. The funniest story is how she accidentally put her family home as the fan club’s address, which soon swelled with ecstatic letters. “Good Ol’ Freda” doesn’t crack the 90-minute mark, and yet it still feels a bit too short, particularly as she has little to reveal about their later, more experimental and dysfunctional years. That’s fine: Any details will do, especially ones that make the untouchable seem approachable.

 
 
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