Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show

Good Ol’ Freda and stodgy ol’ Ed

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Good Ol’ Freda
Directed by Ryan White–2013–87 minutes

Now available on DVD and online, fans of the Beatles (or for that matter, fans of the human race) should definitely check out the wonderful documentary “Good Ol’ Freda” if missed during its brief festival/theatrical run last fall. Its opening moments take us back fifty Christmases ago and the first of the group’s annual holiday-greeting records. Amid the general jollity we hear the guys give a shout-out to their secretary and fan club president, prompting the titular exclamation. Freda Kelly, in the words of one who knew her when, was “a snip of a teenager”, employed as a typist in a Liverpool office when asked if she’d like to join some co-workers to see a lunchtime concert by a certain local combo at the nearby Cavern Club.

The 17 year-old Freda got to know the Beatles as only one can who was part of the band’s original fan base. She can tell you the best place in the Cavern to watch (second archway on the left), tell sweet anecdotes of Paul walking her to the bus stop and still calls Ringo “Ritchie.” In 1962, the Beatles new manager Brian Epstein asked the incredulous teen if she wanted to work for the band. It was a canny move. As both Brian and Freda realized, she was a fan but not a fanatic and could directly relate to the band’s famously ardent female supporters, which would grow into numbers unimaginable back then. A bit player in a worldwide cultural phenomenon, she held the job for a decade and still dutifully replied (on her own time) to the back log of letters even after the band broke up, a process that took some three years.

The personable and straightforward Kelly makes a winning documentary subject. “Loyalty” and “privacy” are the two keywords with her and instead of making her a spoilsport (think of all the dirt there is to dish!) it serves as a refreshing reminder to the special value of basic human decency in a crazy world. Did she profit from the surplus riches (in the form of autographs, ephemera, locks of hair and the like) that her position left her holding? Not a chance. She personally handed much of it over to Beatle fans and kept a few boxes for old time’s sake. Untouched for over thirty years, she heads up to the attic to retrieve them for the camera crew. Did her closeness to the group ever lead to an amorous tryst or two? Maybe, but as Freda sits on a sofa in her modest Liverpool home a half-century later, she coyly takes a pass. “I don’t want anyone’s hair falling out,” is her answer, which sounds sensible enough.

With her girlish smile and helmet of dark hair, the teenage Freda looks like she could have been too overwhelmed or awestruck to ever handle the job description that would come with working for the most popular rock band in history. Not a bit of it. Her unfussy dedication and the band’s ability to not lose themselves in all the mass adulation, speaks volumes for their unpretentious Liverpool roots. And Kelly was no pushover. After John Lennon made a move to unilaterally fire her after she whiled away an hour hanging out with the Moody Blues, he quickly found himself unsupported by the other three and Freda (only half-jokingly) made him get down on one knee to beg her back. With upper echelon pop stars now resembling corporate monoliths more than actual human beings, it would be hard to imagine something like that happening today—esp. if you’ve seen the documentaries of say, Madonna or Beyonce, where employees are subjected to boot camp discipline when they’re not being herded into prayer circles.


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Freda Kelly, then (with a pre-Sir Paul) and today.

Approaching seventy years of age, Freda agreed to be the subject of Ryan White’s cameras only so her grandchildren will grow up knowing who she once was, a notion as simple, likeable and bittersweet as the film itself.


Sullivan with Beatles

“Before I introduce these fine youngsters from Liverpool, can I just say to all the girls in the gallery… Shut the @#$% up!”

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The 4 Complete Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Beatles (2010)

At this late date and with the 50th anniversary coming this week, just about everything that could be said about the Beatles epoch-making appearances on Ed Sullivan’s weekly TV showcase has been said, and multiple times. The televised specials will be all over the place and we’ll all catch at least one. But this DVD, which has been circulating for years, gives the viewer the extra context of viewing the four entire E.S. shows (including commercials) that featured the Fab Four in all their Beatlemania glory, playing to delirious packs of girls in the theater as well as to a record-shattering 73 million viewers at home. Sullivan had been ready to put up a princely sum for one Beatles appearance but Brian Epstein, in an astute bit of managerial razzle dazzle, agreed to accept only a fraction of the offer (settling on $10,000) if the band could instead be on for three weeks, opening and closing each show.

Besides the three famous shows of Feb. 1964, the DVD also has the return appearance from August 1965.

The other material on these discs offers up the last death throes of a vaudeville business model about to be replaced by the Beatles-led youth-centric entertainment revolution. Ed Sullivan got his start as a newspaper columnist focused on Broadway and New York nightlife but his Sunday night variety show,which ran from 1948 to 1971, was a star-making juggernaut of the age when we watched four TV channels on a 9-inch screen. Week after week Sullivan, with his notoriously uncomfortable body language and awkward stabs at humor, would introduce the magicians, acrobat teams, comedy duos, dance troupes, pop singers, puppets and God knows what all. These shows are no exceptions and most look instantly dated next to the Beatles triumphant re-invention of rock and roll. Interspersed are the kinds of commercials that make one feel that 50 years is a really, really long time. Did you know, for instance, that Lipton tea is “friendlier than coffee”, or that Anacin brand aspirin cures depression?

There are a few exceptions: the great Cab Calloway, then 57, turns in a high-spirited performance and we get to see a pre-Monkees Davy Jones appearing with the original cast of “Oliver!” At the Feb 16th show, when Ed moved the show to it’s occasional Miami Beach location (allowing the boys a few days in a warm locale) the Fabs are almost upstaged by the irrepressible Mitzi Gaynor (of whom they were great fans) as she makes the most of her 13-minute turn in the spotlight as if to try and turn back the clock to the days to where superhuman (if slightly hokey) song-and-dance routines and expressive “jazz hands” were the last word in light entertainment. It didn’t quite work that way (the heavyosity of later Sixties culture soon followed), but it wasn’t for lack of effort on Mitzi’s part. So we end Beatles doc month with a little dose of the hotsy-totsy Ms. Gaynor and a great slide show of Beatlemaniacs set to “Twist and Shout.” Enjoy!

The Beatles meet the Maysles, 7 Feb 1964

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The review below taken From “Documentary 101: A Viewer’s Guide to Non-Fiction Film”
Now on sale: (This author page has an extended book excerpt. Also available from Amazon and


The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit
Albert and David Maysles—1964/1991—83 minutes

It was only ten weeks after the assassination of President John Kennedy. With the pall of national tragedy still in the air that winter, the filmmaking team of Albert and David Maysles got a call from Granada Television in England saying a musical group named the Beatles were arriving in New York in a couple of hours and would they mind heading down and maybe getting some footage? Albert was a bit nonplussed but younger brother David was more hip to the current pop scene and sensed the opportunity. After negotiating a deal right there on the phone, the light-traveling duo were on their way to recently renamed John F. Kennedy Airport, getting there just in time for the famous moment when John, Paul, George, and Ringo hesitated a moment at the top of the steps while leaving the plane, realizing that the hordes of people lining the balcony of the terminal were there for them and not some head of state as they first thought. And just like that the Maysles brothers found themselves in the middle of one of the twentieth century’s defining cultural moments. The First U.S. Visit is a 1991 re-edit of the original ’64 film (called “What’s Happening: The Beatles in the U.S.A.”) that adds more music and excises some interview material. But both versions pull the viewer right into the middle of the tumultuous birth of 1960s youth culture. It also features the Beatles performing thirteen unedited songs, from both a Washington, D.C., concert and the epochal Ed Sullivan Show TV appearances.

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Twisting by the pool in Miami Beach, 1964

The Beatles were poised for big things and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” (their first widely distributed single in the U.S.) had hit #1 two weeks previous. Early segments show famed DJ Murray the K in his studio hyping them up but establishment media were often belittling in their opinions and their long-term prospects in America were uncertain. At the airport press conference they quickly charm the jaded New York press corps with their contagious high spirits and sharp wit, then are whisked off to Manhattan and to a rock ’n’ roll superstardom never to be equaled. Although a few hours before they had hardly heard of the Fab Four, the filmmakers found themselves squished into the back of a limo with the confident but still nonplussed band members. Arriving at the Plaza Hotel, we get the first dose of Beatlemania up close with fans pounding on the window, the boys dashing from the car to the lobby door, and the scenes of police struggling to keep back the hordes, all soon to become iconic images of the decade. Two nights later, on February 9, 1964, the band would make television history with 73 million people tuning in to Sullivan’s Sunday-night showcase. The Maysles brothers would tag along for the next five days with unfettered access and whether it’s the boys goofing around in hotel rooms, dancing at the Peppermint Lounge, or getting photographed in Central Park, the camera never seems more than a few feet away from the action.

When it’s time to head south for the D.C. concert, the whole entourage takes the train like it is no big deal and the band jovially mingles with the other passengers. The group here is shown at a giddy apex of fame just before becoming imprisoned by their own celebrity. And although the performances on Sullivan’s show seem as fresh and buoyant as ever, the gig at the old Washington Coliseum may be the musical highlight here. Playing from a makeshift stage in the middle of the arena, the group is surrounded by the deafening din of screaming girls but cut through the pandemonium with a manic energy unseen on the tube. “I Saw Her Standing There” rocks with an almost punkish jolt and Ringo gets a rare concert lead vocal during a likewise frenetic “I Wanna Be Your Man.” The sight of the four of them having to turn around their own amps and rotate the drum riser to play to a different part of the house couldn’t be quainter—roadies weren’t even invented yet!

The Beatles raise the roof on the Washington Coliseum, Feb. 11th, 1964

Ed Sullivan is waiting down in Miami Beach, ready to introduce these “fine youngsters” for the second of the three consecutive weeks on his show. Although the Maysles brothers’ time with the Beatles ended down there, also included is their return appearance (taped earlier) at the regular New York location for week three on Sullivan (with a farewell rave-up of “Twist and Shout” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”) and a bit of their departure and triumphal airport reception back in London.

The filmmakers’ methods seem to point the way to one of rock’s most celebrated films, “A Hard Day’s Night”, which started filming a month after the group’s return. That movie’s director, Richard Lester, carefully crafted a pseudo-documentary feel and a few notable scenes, like the mob-besieged Beatles running to their catch their train before being eaten alive, were not staged but done spontaneously, a bit of cinematic verisimilitude not appreciated by the band. “What’s Happening!” (as it was still known) was a great feather in the cap for the Maysles brothers. With an eerie symmetry, these Johnny-on-the-spot filmmakers would close out the 1960s with “Gimme Shelter”, unwittingly filming the dark flip side of the scene the Beatles created while following a late 1969 tour by the Rolling Stones.