Good Ol’ Freda (Ryan White, 2013)

When it comes to The Beatles, there are plenty of myths and legends. There are the tell-all books and exclusive interviews of close and loose associates of the band that sometimes create or perpetuate these falsehoods, distorting the truth in the process. Then there are the words, memories, and opinions of the Beatles themselves – and sometimes even they contradict themselves! (See their recollections of receiving the MBE in The Beatles Anthology!) And then, rarest of the rare, there are the untold stories of those who were actually there.

Good Ol’ Freda tells such a story.

Freda

Freda Kelly had the dream job of countless teenagers (and adults, too, I’m sure!) in the 1960s: she was head of the Beatles’ fan club…and personal secretary to the Fab Four themselves, placing her in their coveted inner circle and giving her a front-row seat to the madness that was Beatlemania and all the crazy, wonderful stories that went along with it. There are so many stories — and kinds of stories — in Good Ol’ Freda.

There is the story of her close relationship with all of the Beatles and their families — how George’s father taught her to ballroom dance and how Ringo’s mother eventually influenced Brian Epstein to give Freda a raise. There is the story of how John Lennon’s laugh once saved her job. There is the story of how George, sweetheart that he was, got her all of the Beatles autographs. There is the story of how she made John Lennon, who moments earlier had declared she was “sacked”, get down on his knees and beg her to once again serve as his secretary. What a sight that must have been!

Then there are the stories of how she took care of the fans because she was, first and foremost, a Beatles fan, and she knew what that meant. She understood the intense devotion, admiration, and love the Beatles inspired in their fans. And so when fans wrote requesting locks of hair, she scoured the floor of the barbershop and sent them real locks of their hair. When a fan sent a pillow requesting that Ringo sleep on it and send it back to her, Freda made sure that Ringo slept on that pillow. And when scores of fans wrote for autographs, she did her best to make sure that they received genuine autographs. (She — like John Lennon — disliked the use of the stamped autographs Brian Epstein tried to make standard practice because, quite simply, they weren’t the real thing. And she understood the disappointment and frustration that a fan would feel when they received not only a stamped autograph but a stamped autograph that had smudged.) Even after the Beatles had disbanded, she gave away memorabilia worth literally millions to real Beatles fans in the mid-1970s.

And then there are the stories of Freda as a person — staunchly loyal, unfailingly trustworthy and honest, not swayed by materialism or wealth, and highly protective of the Beatles and their fans. Freda was kind, but she was not to be crossed, as the story of how she fired an assistant once she discovered she had cut her sister’s hair and tried to pass it off as the Beatles’ hair demonstrates. The situation was simple to Freda: she could no longer trust the assistant and thus she had to go. Freda was fiercely loyal. She was once offered money in exchange for as many bits of information she could fit into an envelope. Nobody would have to know — she could place an envelope through a door and an envelope, with a large check enclosed, would be returned. Looking back on the situation, Freda explains how everybody needs and likes money and often would like to have more money — but she did not want it that much. Her integrity was worth more to her. What a gal!

To Freda, fame and wealth do not mean much. Because, as she reflects on the deaths of those once part of the Beatles’ circle, all the fame and money in the world still can’t cure cancer, can it? Throughout the years, Freda has refused offer after offer to write a book and tell her story — and the only reason she chose to tell it recently was for her posterity, spurred on by the birth of her grandson and the death of her son who had often asked her about her memories of working with The Beatles.

Watching Good Ol’ Freda, it’s easy to fall in love with Freda. You recognize yourself in her because she, like you, is a Beatles fan. She has been one since she visited The Cavern Club during her lunch break one day and will forever remain one. And you appreciate that she was there, in the midst of all the craziness, to take care of not only the Beatles but also their fans. You see the genuine love she had for the Beatles, their families, and those other close associates she worked with. “I worked with a lot of good people,” she remarks toward the end of the film.

She, too, was one of the good people, and I am so glad her story has finally been told. Thanks, Freda!

Advertisements

America’s Favorite Family, The Nelsons!

img0141A

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet is, quite simply, an American Institution. It began as a radio program in 1944, with David and Ricky joining the cast in 1949, and then made the move to television in 1952, after a full-length theatrical feature Here Come the Nelsons was released that same year. The show ran for 14 (!!) seasons, and America watched Ricky and David grow from bickering, wise-cracking little boys to married men–oh, and Ricky blossomed into a singing sensation somewhere along the way, too. Ozzie and Harriet, meanwhile, stayed Ozzie Harriet–wise, loving parents and the gosh darndest cutest couple that ever was.

Ozzie Nelson wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the television series, and he infused his values into the show–values like a loving family and good-natured fun, values that helped shape the Nelson family into the ideal American family, values that still hold up. Despite the show’s title, it wasn’t a very adventuresome show. Most of the plots center around little misunderstandings or mix-ups–but what funny, wholesome, entertaining misunderstandings and mix-ups they were!

Rick Nelson once said that watching episodes of the show were like watching home movies for him. Like a home movie, you can see the genuine love and warmth this family had for one another while watching the show. It makes you want to go over to their house and spend time with them, which you can’t do so you just have to settle for watching another episode, which works out well because there are 435! Here are a few–a very few–of my favorites.

The Pills
Season 1, Episode 3
Original air date: October 17, 1952

Ozzie thinks he needs to lose weight. Why? Harriet has bought him a new pair of pants–a size 33, which he thinks will be too big because he measured a size 30 for his pants in high school. Ozzie models the size 33 for Harriet and Ricky, who begins singing, “Roll out the barrels!” The pants are a little tight, and Ozzie believes it’s because the store sold Harriet the wrong size but still decides to dedicate himself to going on a diet in order to fit into the pants. When he learns that Thorny’s weight loss has actually been due to some appetite-suppressing pills, he decides to do the same…except the pills that he thinks are appetite-suppressing are actually the pills prescribed to Ricky to increase his appetite for nutritious foods (‘cos the kid can’t keep out of the cookie jar apparently). Laughs straight ahead!

Oscillating Ozzie
Season 1, Episode 39
Original air date: June 26, 1953

It all begins with Harriet frying instead of boiling Ozzie’s eggs for breakfast. She just thought he might like a change, but this unexpected change in routine spurs a discussion that perhaps Ozzie, like most men, has become “set in his ways.” Ozzie then becomes determined to prove that he is definitely NOT set in his ways, especially after a discussion with the most annoying character on this show, Emmy Lou. Emmy Lou is a teenager who is all “ooohs” and “ahhhs” and other annoying exclamations. She raves to Ozzie about a movie she recently saw. “What was it called?” Ozzie wants to know. “Farley Granger,” she sighs.

Speaking of Farley Granger, remember that time when a young Ricky Nelson starred in The Story of Three Loves? He was the most adorable, charming child who ran around terrorizing his governess, speaking French–s’il vous plaît, s’il vous plaît!, and wishing desperately that he was all grown up so that he could stay up as late as he liked and would have no more stupid French lessons. Oh, he was adorable and charming. And then he duly goes to bed in his white and blue striped pajamas…and wakes up as Farley Granger, who, try as he might, is just not as adorable and charming as young Ricky Nelson. Maybe because I have a tiny bit of trouble forgetting that time he took part in the “perfect” murder.

Back to Oscillating Ozzie, though.

Emmy Lou’s rave review about this Farley Granger film where Farley Granger is irresponsible and unpredictable convinces Ozzie that he must prove to Harriet that he is NOT set in his ways. He is unpredictable, prone to change his mind, crazy! So he does not buy one quart of vanilla ice cream and one quart of chocolate ice cream. Oh, no–he buys three quarts of Tutti Frutti ice cream! (“What’s Tutti Frutti?” asks Ricky. Ha! Ha! Ha! Spoiler alert! Pop’s gonna spend an entire episode looking for some Tutti Frutti ice cream, Ricky.) And he walks instead of driving–and doesn’t take his usual route, to boot. He changes his clothes for dinner. He decides to stay home and play his banjo instead of going out bowling with Thorny…until Harriet practically pushes him out of the house because she is having a new rug delivered while Ozzie is out because the change would upset him.

“I wonder what’s come over, Pop,” wonders Dave. Ricky just shakes his head and says, “Crazy, mixed up kid!”

crazymixedupkid

Boy, does that kid makes the show.

When Ozzie meets the rug delivery man on his way to meet Thorny, he discovers Harriet’s plot and decides once again to surprise her by being so incredibly unpredictable and crazy in an ending you have to see for yourself. Oh, Ozzie, we love you just the way you are!

Hairstyle for Harriet
Season 5, Episode 15
Original air date: January 9, 1957

This episode is kind of a companion to “Oscillating Ozzie.” When Ozzie can describe Harriet’s hairstyle perfectly, she believes it’s time for a change, which alarms Ozzie because he likes her hair just the way it is. He’s worried about what she’ll do to her hair and decides to change his own hair, which shocks everyone. Here’s Ricky’s reaction:

Even better, though, is the end of the episode, where Ricky and Dave head out to a costume party. Ricky dresses up as Elvis….and sings a few lines from “Love Me Tender” (this is just a few episodes before his singing debut). Sigh.

rickyelvis

An even deeper sigh. Check out those eyelashes!

And David, inspired by Ozzie, dresses up as Yul Brynner in The King and I, replete with “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.” Not to be missed!

The Trophy
Season 6, Episode 13
Original air date: January 1, 1958

Ozzie cannot find his decathlon trophy and nobody at the Men’s Club believes he ever won it! So the family decides to enter (and win!) the upcoming Family Decathlon at the Men’s Club picnic. Harriet wins the pie-baking contest. David wins the football-throwing contest. Ricky wins at tennis. And Ozzie…well, Ozzie has a hard time.

There’s also a rock ‘n’ roll dance contest. Guess who enters?

…and scares everybody else out of entering, apparently.

But the final competition–and the one that will determine whether the Nelson family wins the Decathlon and the trophy–is the Obstacle Course, which Ozzie enters. Can he do it? What do you mean, can he do it? Ozzie can do anything!

vlcsnap-00018

With Harriet’s help, of course.

Closed Circut
Season 6, Episode 25
Original air date: March 26, 1958

Ok, I love, love, LOVE this episode. It makes me laugh. A lot.

The Randolphs son, Joe Jr., has devised a way to broadcast television programs from the Nelsons’ basement. This allows for many tricks to be played on unsuspecting members of the Nelson family and visitors in their home! I love when Ricky is a supposed contestant on a game show and can’t answer the question, “What does the formula H2O stand for?”

vlcsnap-00014

“Water!” shouts Ozzie.

“Oh, thanks, Pop!”

Later, Joe Randolph Sr. and Ozzie decide to use the set-up to play a trick on their wives, who have just been spending too much time at the Women’s Club meetings and not enough time at home cooking their dinners. With the help of Ricky, Dave, Joe Jr., and a bachelor friend named Fred, they create a nightclub–drinks, music, dancing, and beautiful girls included!

vlcsnap-00016

Of course the trick backfires. But all ends well with the Nelsons watching Joe and Clara fight and make up on the television. And then….

breakingthe4thwall

Yeah, they totally just broke the fourth wall. And they did it being lovelier and cuter and more endearing than anybody else ever in the history of television.

The Circus
Season 8, Episode 15
Original air date: January 27, 1960

The plot of this episode is actually kind of boring: David, now a budding law clerk, has to serve a summons to an owner of a circus, Mr. Cantini, and he doesn’t want to because the guy is so nice. The best part of this episode is that it allows David and Rick to showcase their actual trapeze talents. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet may have been idealized in some ways, but so many of its story lines were derived from real-life events or integrated their real-life hobbies and skills. David and Ricky actually performed all the flying trapeze tricks in this episode (David was also part of a group that travelled and performed during the summer), and it’s so fun to watch. It’s also fun to watch how Ozzie was able to incorporate their skills into the storyline.

David is restless, worrying about serving this dog-gone summons. “Hey, Ricky,” he asks. “What would you do if you had to serve a summons?”

vlcsnap-00001

“The first thing I’d do is get a good night’s sleep,” responds Ricky, whose hair just happens to be perfectly groomed. Ricky then suggests that David serve Papa Cantini the summons when he swings across the trapeze. David falls asleep and begins to dream about just that…

vlcsnap-00017

David’s the catcher and Ricky’s the flier, and they do some tricks that make me a little nervous. But it’s awesome….just like their outfits.

Let’s take a moment to consider and appreciate that the following photo is for sale on eBay for a mere $9.49:

$_58

I am THIS close to messaging the following to the seller: “Hi, just wondering if this comes in a LARGE poster size. Thanks.”

Cafe Caper
Season 13, Episode 15
Original air date: December 30, 1964

I love this episode. Even though Rick and Dave have both moved out and married, this episode finds them going on a fishing trip with good ol’ Pop. Except they run into a little trouble. First, Harriet is supposed to make them a big breakfast–just like in the old days!–before they head out, but once she hears where June and Kris are spending their day (at a big sale down at the Emporium–where else?), she bolts, leaving the boys and Ozzie to make their own breakfast. Yeah, like that’s gonna happen. So they head to a little diner, where they unwittingly witness a robbery, of which they (particularly Ozzie) also become the prime suspects. So…with the help of Harriet, they try to track down the person they believe actually committed the crime, a little old lady who sold them a few donuts before leaving the diner under suspicious circumstances. They eventually find her home, and this VERY important moment occurs:

1
2

Yeah, little Ricky is all grown up…and married. And Kris is a really good cook!

This episode is a lot of fun, and it kept me wondering who really was in the wrong at that little diner. (Ellery Queen probably would have been disappointed in my deduction skills.) Plus, I just love that they are all together…which I guess they are now, too. Tear.

What a special family they were. Sometimes, I take a step back and think about how I’m spending my time watching what I’m watching. Like…why am I spending my time watching a reality show about people losing weight? (Really, I would like to know the answer to this.) Why am I spending my time watching a show where everyone in this hospital has slept with everybody else at some point? Why am I spending my time watching a show about people lost on an island? I don’t have to stop and wonder why I am watching The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. (Well, I have thought about when I actually reach the point where I have seen all 435 episodes–I’m about halfway–which will mean I have spent over 200 hours with this family, and that is kind of crazy.) I watch it because it’s a good show from start to finish–some shows lose quality over time, but not this one. I watch it because it is filled with genuine warmth, affection, and comedy. I watch it because Ricky Nelson has really long, beautiful eyelashes. (Just kidding! …kind of.) I watch it because it’s the Nelsons, America’s favorite family! My favorite family.

Saving Mr. Banks (John Lee Hancock, 2013)

Saving Mr. Banks tells two stories. The first story, set in Los Angeles, circa 1961, tells the story of Walt Disney attempting yet again to persuade the author of his daughters’ beloved Mary Poppins novels, P.L. Travers, to grant him the rights to turn the story into a major motion picture. He’s been trying for twenty years, and Travers is as adamantly against the idea as she always has been, except this time her agent has told her that she has little choice, as she desperately needs the money.

So Travers grudgingly leaves her home in London and travels to Los Angeles, where she conflicts with each person she meets: her driver Ralph (a fictional character, played so perfectly and sweetly by Paul Giamatti) who can’t get her name quite right (although she later admits to him that he is the only American that she liked), brothers Robert and Richard Sherman, who are composing the songs for the tentative (although they do not yet know that it is tentative) film adaptation, screenwriter Don DaGradi, and the man himself, Walt Disney. Each of these characters is cheerful, friendly, enthusiastic, and excited to meet Mrs. Travers–until they actually meet Mrs. Travers, who is prickly, stubborn, and demanding. The conflict between the two dynamics creates frustration and comedy and takes the audience inside the creative process and the difficulties of translating a story, so precious and dear to its creator, to the screen.

The second–and, I might argue, more important and interesting–story gives the audience some insight into why Travers is so difficult and possessive of her story and her characters (who, she tells Disney, are like family to her). It is the story of Travers’ childhood in Australia, focusing on her relationship with her father, sublimely portrayed by Colin Farrell. Through the eyes of young Travers, we see the intense adoration and love she had for her father, who had a profound effect on her and her creation, from his warning to her to not be swayed and ruled by money to his love of the imaginary and magical. Through her eyes, we see her father struggle to maintain a respectable job to support his family, whom he loves dearly, and battle alcoholism. Through her eyes, we see the excitement when her father comes early from work, and we see the shocked horror when her father, struggling to simply stand up straight, cannot even remember how old she is. And we see the eagerness in her eyes as she searches for her father’s “medicine” that she knows he needs and hopes will make him better and will ultimately save him.

Woven together, these stories make an extraordinary, heartwarming, tear-jerking film. The cast is superb; Emma Thompson allows Travers to be unfriendly and difficult while also expressing a sadness in her eyes that lets the audience know that she’s experienced her share of sadness and disappointment. The production re-creates the times and places so well. The script is well-crafted and tells the story beautifully. Maybe it doesn’t tell us every detail or even all of the story but it certainly captures its spirit–the spirit of a little girl who desperately loves her father and wants to save him but cannot and as an adult cannot bear to “let him down again” by letting go of her work and putting it into the hands of men she fears will warp and destroy it and its characters, especially Mr. Banks. It is a beautiful, wonderful film. Do yourself a favor and see it.