“There were so many odds against the making of this film,” said Kathy McCabe, Baltimore native and producer of “Good Ol’ Freda.”
The biggest was Freda Kelly, herself. The Beatles’ loyal secretary for more than a decade, Freda never spoke about her experiences. She took care of all the details related to the soaring careers of John, Paul, George and Ringo; from answering thousands of fan letters to handing them pillowcases to sleep on so she could send them to their admirers.
McCabe, who will be at the Maryland Film Festival on May 9 and 12, when the documentary airs, met Freda through the Beatles Pen Pals. The Pen Pals was a page that Freda put together in a long ago magazine called, “Beatles Monthly.”
McCabe was in high school at the Institute of Notre Dame when she picked up her first copy of “Beatles Monthly.” She signed up for a pen pal and met Robby Malloy, whose sister, Sandra, was married to the Merseybeats’ Billy Kinsley. Billy Kinsley, who is featured in the “Good Ol’ Freda” documentary, played at The Cavern Club in Liverpool at the same time the Beatles performed there.
Robby Malloy came to Baltimore in 1966 and stayed with Kathy’s family. “Our pen pal friendship has lasted fifty years, through both our families. We are now grandparents,” Kathy McCabe said. Five years ago, they were all gathered on Ibiza Island for Billy and Sandra Kinsley’s daughter’s wedding. Kathy McCabe and Freda Kelly had a drink together.
“I’d been warned not to bring up the Beatles,” McCabe said. “And Freda never talked about them.” Until they shared drinks on Ibiza. The stories Freda told Kathy McCabe about the Beatles prompted an invitation to Baltimore. Freda discussed the Beatles with an intimate group of fans in the McCabe living room. The one hour discussion stretched to four.
After the McCabe ‘s home in Baltimore, Freda accepted an invitation that she had always declined. In March 2011, she spoke to seven thousand Beatles fans at the New Jersey Beatlefest, and was encouraged to document her experiences. The film, “Good Ol’ Freda” is the result.
Winner of the Audience Award at the Cleveland International Film Festival, “Good Ol’ Freda” will be shown in the Charles Theatre 1 at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 9 and in the MICA Brown Center at noon on Sunday, May 12.
For all who remember or have followed the Beatles, the documentary is a “must see.” It showcases Freda Kelly’s account of the Beatles’ rise and extraordinary fame against the backdrop of still photos that begin with the Beatles at the Cavern Club. Freda reminisces about the Beatles’ 294 performances there. Other notable landmarks are also visited, such as the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton, when the Beatles appeared with Little Richard and the street where Ringo lived. Freda stands in Ringo’s old living room, reporting about the first time she met Ringo’s mother.
In the documentary, Paul’s stepmother states that Freda was like a sister to the Beatles and a daughter to their families. Freda is, of course, asked if she dated any of the Beatles. Her answer is typical of the discretion for which she is famous. Freda does mention that there are stories, but “they’re personal.”
“I’m so proud to be bringing this film to Baltimore,” said Kathy McCabe, who lists her brother, Tom, as an associate producer and her sister, Peggy, as a co-producer of “Good Ol’ Freda.” The film took approximately two years to film. Forty hours of Freda had to be “mined” to an hour and half of a story worth telling. “Before we even began the project, we got approvals from the two surviving Beatles, Ringo and Paul,” Kathy McCabe explained. The film also required Yoko Ono’s and George Harrison’s widow, Olivia’s approval.
Freda Kelly is so well loved, permission to use the original recordings of four Beatles’ songs, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Love Me Do,” “I Feel Fine,” and “I Will” was also granted. “That is never done,” Kathy McCabe added. “Except for one documentary on George, the original, master copies of their songs are never used in films.”
The documentary was a labor of love, according to Kathy McCabe. They are still fundraising to defer the costs of making the film. The nonprofit, Southern Documentary Fund, has been set up for tax deductible donations. Log onto the website here or make a contribution and click here to purchase your ticket to “Good Ol’ Freda” at the Maryland Film Festival.
Read more news on the Beatles here.