Baltimore-Beatles connection behind documentary on Fab Four’s Freda
As a card-carrying AARP member and aging Baby Boomer who grew up in the ’60s, it’s needless to say that I grew up loving everything to do with The Beatles. So when I saw that “Good Ol’ Freda,” a documentary about their personal secretary Freda Kelly, was premiering May 9, 2013 at the 15th Maryland Film Festival, my Beatles-loving girlfriend and I immediately bought tickets. Little did we know that there was a Baltimore connection to this story from across the Pond. In fact, this film might never have been made without the efforts of a 16-year-old Arbutus Beatles fan, Kathy McCabe (a graduate of the Institute of Notre Dame and Towson State University), and her filmmaker nephew Ryan White. (We saw it last night and it’s great!) Thanks to Geoffrey Himes, who caught the film at its March 2013 SXSW Film Festival premiere, for spreading the news in his City Paper review! (P.S.: the film’s title comes from a Beatles Christmas record shout-out from George Harrison, who thanks her for all her hard work running the Beatles Fan Club!) – Tom Warner
GOOD OL’ FREDA
Baltimore connection brings the Beatles’ longtime secretary’s story to the big screen
Good Ol’ Freda, a documentary about Freda Kelly, the Beatles’ personal secretary and head of the Beatles Fan Club, has been a hit on the film-festival circuit. When it premiered at the South by Southwest Film Conference in March, it sold out two shows, and in April it won a $5,000 audience-choice award for best film at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Just weeks before its local debut at the Maryland Film Festival, it was picked up for national distribution by Magnolia Pictures.
When I saw it in Texas, it wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t a thinly veiled excuse to make yet another movie about the Beatles; it actually did focus on Kelly, who deserves the attention, surprisingly enough. You can’t understand the phenomenon of the Beatles without understanding their strong connection to the teenage girls in their hometown of Liverpool. “No one took those girls seriously,” Kelly says in the movie’s key line, “but I did, because I was one of them.”
She was a 17-year-old secretary who spent her lunch hours at the Cavern, a nightclub near her office. Playing the lunchtime show every day were four scruffy lads in black leather: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Pete Best. She got to know the boys by chatting after the shows, and when their fledgling fan club became too much for another woman, Kelly took it over. Then, when the band’s new manager, Brian Epstein, needed a secretary, he hired Kelly.
Yet, her story would never have been told if it hadn’t been for a 16-year-old girl in Baltimore. That’s how old Kathy McCabe was in 1964, when she wrote to The Beatles Monthly, the magazine edited by Kelly and published by the Beatles Fan Club, seeking a pen pal from England. Before long, she and her 14-year-old sister Peggy were corresponding monthly with two Liverpool teenagers: Robbie and Sandra Malloy. The mutual interest was so strong that Robbie visited Baltimore in 1966 and Kathy visited Liverpool in 1970. McCabe met Billy Kinsley, Sandra’s husband and lead singer for the Merseybeats, the Liverpool band that played with the Beatles more than 50 times.
“To me, it was just unbelievable,” recalls McCabe, the producer of Good Ol’ Freda. “I was a die-hard Beatles fan, and like any other girl at that time, I just wanted to hear a Liverpool accent. Peggy and I used to do phone calls with Robbie when it was $2.50 a minute just to hear him talk. I met Freda, because she was part of Billy and Sandra’s circle. This group of guys and girls had this big friendship circle, and I became part of that circle. All these people had seen the Beatles play at the Cavern, and I wanted to know everything. For me, it was a dream come true.”
Continue reading “Good Ol’ Freda” at citypaper.com.
*** See “Good Ol’ Freda” ***
Producer and Baltimore native Kathy McCabe is presenting “Good Ol’ Freda” in two screenings at the 2013 Maryland Film Festival: Thursday, May 9 at 5 p.m. at The Charles Theater and Sunday, May 12 at 12 noon at the MICA Brown Building.
*** Watch “Good Ol’ Freda” Trailer ***
*** More About Baltimore’s Kathy McCabe ***
Kathy McCabe is an award-winning photographer and Beatles expert with widespread experience in the music industry. She has worked as a publicist and manager, a music video and album producer, and also a recording studio manager. She was a publicist and marketer for Pelada and initiated and engineered the production of Good Ol’ Freda. Kathy was born in Baltimore, MD and graduated from Towson State University with a degree in Political Science & History. She lives between Catonsville, MD and Gulf Shores, AL. She is an avid wildlife photographer and travels regularly with her musician husband Mac Walter. For more than 30 years she sang in bands in the Baltimore area, and is especially remembered for her band The Uncertain Things, a popular band at The Bluesette. – 2013 Maryland Film Festival Program Guide
Check out The Uncertain Things’ on Facebook!
Not be outdone, McCabe’s husband Mac Walter is also musical – he plays with Governor Martin O’Malley’s band, O’Malley’s March!
She flew through the hallowed halls of Baltimore’s Institute of Notre Dame, waving black-and-white Polaroid pictures for just one dollar each. Where else could you get a personal memento of The Beatles U.S. debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on February 9, 1964? Kathy McCabe was a promoter while still dressed in the pleated plaid skirt and saddle shoe uniform of IND, before she even knew what that term meant. And she was absolutely crazy over this new group from Liverpool, England. She LOVED music…so much so that she was almost expelled from the all-girls Catholic school for an in-school performance. We sat through lots of performances during our time at IND: choral groups, drama club, etc., but never had a student dared to put on one like Kathy did. The curtain drew back to reveal (GASP) a group of girls performing a Beach Boys’ number, with Miss McCabe hammering away on a set of drums. The principal rushed to the stage, her black veil flying behind her, and shut down such an affront to womanly decency.If you happened to stop by the gathering place for local Baltimore music in the mid 1960’s and 70’s – The Bluesette – you’d have seen her, decked out in hippie chick garb, singing with The Uncertain Things band and elsewhere for over thirty years. Time moved on, and many of us re-directed our youthful passions, but not Kathy McCabe. I caught up with my former classmate recently and discovered that she has indeed continued to do what she always loved.Her talent for picture-taking extended far beyond those Polaroids, too. She is an award-winning photographer, who has worked as a publicist and manager, a music video and album producer, a recording studio manager, and a publicist and marketer for “Pelada”, a documentary film about pick-up soccer games around the world, far from the manicured fields of professional sports. After making the rounds of about 30 film festivals, it was picked up by PBS and Netflix. You can check “Pelada” out at pelada-themovie.com.Kathy also happens to be an expert on all things Beatle. If you are wondering what good it does to know everything there is about the Fab Four, well pull up a chair…
*** Watch Videos ***
Beatles 1963 Christmas Record
Freda gets a shout-out from George (the not-so-quiet Beatle) at around the 4:20 mark!