For more than a decade she worked with The Beatles, their manager and their families. Now Freda Kelly is coming to Southern Utah for two screenings of the documentary “Good Ol’ Freda.”
“I didn’t think it would get the reaction it got,” Kelly says of the documentary during a telephone interview with The Spectrum & Daily News.
“Good Ol’ Freda” premiered in 2013 at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The film’s producer, Kathy McCabe, says the surviving Beatles gave their blessing to the film, which also resulted in the licensing of four Beatles songs for the documentary.
McCabe says this was a testament to the high regard they held for Kelly. It also gave the film legitimacy in the eyes of Beatles fans.
“That put this film into the stratosphere,” McCabe says. “Overnight the Associated Press picked up that story and we went viral.”
After its premiere, Magnolia Pictures purchased “Good Ol’ Freda,” adding further legitimacy and reach. The film is still being shown on Netflix and appearing at film events around the country, like the local screenings sponsored by DOCUTAH.
“It’s very unusual for a documentary to go this long,” McCabe says. “We’re kind of blown away that it’s still going. I think it has something to do with the subject matter.”
By subject matter, McCabe doesn’t just mean The Beatles. Among Beatles fans, Kelly is a big name herself. Not only was she the secretary to The Beatles and their manager, Brian Epstein, she was also president of the band’s official fan club and the person tasked with responding to thousands of letters from fans.
Among those fans was McCabe. She started out as a Beatles fan but eventually formed a friendship with Kelly, who had somewhat disappeared from The Beatles limelight after the band broke up. She continued to work as a secretary and the people in her office had no idea she had once worked for the biggest band in the world.
Because Kelly is a private person, she never shared her Beatles stories. When McCabe began to spend time with her, she was warned to not ask Kelly about The Beatles. But one time while they were on vacation together, Kelly began to voluntarily share stories.
“I just plied her with more wine to keep her talking,” McCabe remembers.
McCabe encouraged Kelly to begin speaking to Beatles fans and eventually she relented. The first time she traveled to the United States for a speaking engagement she received a standing ovation.
Obviously there was interest in this woman who had been so devoted to The Beatles and their families.
“People said, ‘You should write a book,’” Kelly remembers. “I never wanted to do that because I think there are too many Beatles books.”
At the same time, she wanted to do something. She had recently become a grandmother and she wanted her grandson to know she was more than just a gray-haired lady with a couple of cats.
Then McCabe pitch the idea of a documentary film.
“She basically relented because her grandson, Niall, had been born and she wanted him to know that back in the ‘60s she had done some pretty great things,” McCabe says.
Soon the filmmaking began. McCabe says they thought it would take a few months but it quickly became a two-year process. When they interviewed Kelly, one question would typically elicit a number of different stories. By the end of the interview process, McCabe estimates they had about 40 hours of footage.
Their intent was not only to tell Kelly’s own remarkable story but to also humanize the members of The Beatles and their families. The filmmakers wanted to show the effects of fame on all of them. With Kelly’s help, they were able to fulfill that goal.
“She loved the final product,” McCabe says.
With the completion of the film came the next step in the process: marketing. That included Kelly traveling to film festivals and other screenings to participate in question-and-answer sessions, as she will do in Southern Utah this weekend.
Kelly says she didn’t think she would enjoy taking part in the Q&A format but it turns out that she does enjoy it. Each time it’s different as audiences offer up a variety of questions.
“The reception Freda gets from fans is beautiful to watch,” McCabe says. “Some of them come up with letters she sent to them 50 years ago. … That’s really her favorite thing is meeting the fans.”
When she’s not talking about The Beatles, Kelly, now 71, is still an unassuming office employee. She continues to work full time in a regular job, completely unconnected to the lads from Liverpool.
This stands out, in particular, to McCabe, who notes that Kelly had so much Beatles memorabilia at one time that she could be a rich woman today. But she never tried to sell any of it, choosing instead to put it in the hands of fans.
After all, as the former president of The Beatles’ official fan club, Freda Kelly knows Beatles fans. That’s why she has chosen to continue to promote “Good Ol’ Freda” through events like those coming to Southern Utah.
“The people in the audience are Beatles fans and I love to meet Beatles fans because I’m one,” she says. “And I will always be one.”
“Good Ol’ Freda” screening and Q&A with Freda Kelly
When: 7 p.m. Feb 23 and Feb. 25
Where: Tuacahn High School’s Hafen Theatre, 1100 Tuacahn Drive, Ivins City, on Feb. 23 and the Bumbleberry Theater, 897 Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale, on Feb. 25.
Admission: $10; online reservations required
Information: Visit docutah.com/good-ol-freda/ or call 650-868-5829