It was 1961. And the world was about to be spun wildly forward on its axis, not by the iron fists of Cold War strategists but by the nimble typing fingers and congeniality of one Freda Kelly.

Kelly — the subject of Good Ol’ Freda, Ryan White’s absorbing new documentary just picked up by Magnolia Pictures for North American distribution — left school at 16 and entered a typing pool in her hometown of Liverpool, England. One day a fellow typist invited her for lunch to hear live music at The Cavern, which Kelly recalls reeking of “disinfectant, rotten food and sweat.” No matter. It was neither the smell nor the food that lured her away from stacks of letters and contracts. It was a certain act — with four yet-to-be-discovered young men — whose music was unlike anything she’d heard before. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Pete Best, replaced by Ringo Starr in 1962, performed 284 times in the dank, unventilated cellar. “I was hooked!” she giggles with a schoolgirl glint in her eye, as she admits to having seen 180 of those performances.

Like a Greek seer, Kelly predicted the future fame of The Beatles well before anyone knew who they were. With her premonition, luck or just mad crushes on all of them, she landed what many 17-year-olds might have considered the best job in the world: The Beatles’ secretary, letter writer, editor and writer of “The Beatles Monthly,” loyal keeper of their paraphernalia … and their secrets. For five decades, the unassuming, jovial Kelly kept mum about her 11-year-job. Now in her 60s, she’s decided to share a slice of Beatles’ history that will intrigue fan and non-fan alike. White doles out small, sweet treats that we savor as Kelly, at times hesitatingly, shares her Beatles’ boys — their families, their fans, their precious locks of hair, their worldwide tours, their rising fame and their breakup.

It may be a film about Beatle history, but the super star of the documentary is hands-down Kelly, whose addictive smile and flirtatious eyes are as hypnotic as Lennon’s and as beguiling as Ringo’s. Angie McCartney, Paul’s stepmother, explains that Kelly was sweet and kind, but if anything threatened the lives of the fabulous four, she could turn into a fire-breathing dragon; Kelly’s motto: “I’ll be nice to you, but don’t cross me if you try to tell lies about my boys.”

And that’s where White’s luck turns verdant green: the respectful loyalty Kelly held for the Beatles is as strong as the respectful loyalty the remaining Beatles’ members hold for her.

While pulling the soundtrack together, White hit one green light after another — and lucky for us. The soundtrack is superlicious: Little Richard, Buddy Holly, the Isley Brothers, the Marvelettes, Carl Perkins, the Shirelles, Arthur Alexander and … four, count them, four Beatles’ tracks. (Like love letters to Freda, they are integrated poignantly throughout the film.) There was surely grumbling by others in the entertainment industry — on the set of Mad Men no less — when word got out that young buck White had locked in not one but four Beatles’ songs. The producers of AMC’s hit show about the 1960s advertising culture are rumored to have spent $250,000 for the use of one partial Beatles’ song. (White’s entire pre-production costs came under $50,000.)

White’s music sensibilities — he grew up in Atlanta and Liverpool — electrify the screen with the twang of Harrison’s guitar and the joust of McCartney’s timbre as Kelly’s illuminating tales — many of which have never before been heard — unfold. Ninety-five percent of the story, her daughter testifies, was new to her. And what of Kelly now? “You can’t keep going on like that, can you?” she asks with the wise face of time. “I worked with a lot of good people … I’m still a secretary,” she says with a nonchalant shrug. So goes the story of titans amidst a mountain of giants.

Good Ol’ Freda is one of the only films to receive Beatles’ support — a credit White humbly offers solely to Kelly. Let’s hope his youthful spirit and modesty stay with him for what is surely to be a rise to stardom; perhaps not on the same level as a Lennon or McCartney or Starr or Harrison, but genius nonetheless.

GALO had the chance to speak with filmmaker Ryan White during the screening of Good Ol’ Freda at the Sarasota Film Festival in April. Coming off the creative energy of the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, TX, where the documentary premiered, White was still lauding praise on the Liverpudlian teenager who changed the lives of millions of young women across the globe.

GALO: First, I have to ask, are you a Beatles’ fan?

Ryan White: I’m a big Beatles fan. I grew up in Liverpool and Atlanta and have been raised on ’60s Liverpool music my whole life. I’ve never been an avid Beatles’ historian, per se, but I heard all the stories.

GALO: You met Freda Kelly through your uncle, Billy Kinsley, of the Liverpool band, the Merseybeats, who’s also in the film. Have you known Kelly your whole life? And how did the opportunity present itself? Or was it like Kelly’s stumbling upon the Beatles one day playing at the Cavern and things just fell into place?

RW: My aunt worked for Freda in the fan club. I knew Freda my whole life but never knew she was The Beatles’ secretary until [producer] Katherine McCabe started talking with Freda about the film. At the time I was making a film on gay marriage in California. That was going to be my second film. And then I realized the case would be making a long way through the courts. It’s the type of documentary where you follow a story and not know where it is going and when the ending is going to happen. Good Ol’ Freda is different, because it ended 40 years ago. So when this opportunity presented itself, I knew we could actually schedule how to make the film and still work with the court case. It was all about serendipity — a perfect storm of factors that brought us together.

(Interview continued on next page)