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'Leta of Lincoln' Goes Viral For 40-Year-Old Celebrity Interviews

Dec 21, 2020

Leta Powell Drake is a Lincoln resident and former television broadcaster. She came to national attention last month after a compilation of some of her celebrity interviews went viral.
Credit Leta Powell Drake

If you're a child of the 70s, you might know her as Kalamity Kate on "Cartoon Corral" on Channels 10/11 in Lincoln. Younger generations might recognize her as a Twitter sensation. Eighty-two-year-old Leta Powell Drake is a Nebraska broadcasting veteran with more than 40 years of experience. Last month, a compilation of Drake's celebrity interviews from the 1980s went viral.

The two-minute clip, which has tens of thousands of likes and retweets, features portions of Drake's interviews with Tom Hanks, Tim Curry, Lee Remick and a host of other famous faces. Drake is confident and blunt, and some guests seem baffled by her interviewing style.

"Let me ask you," she says to Remick at the 1:43 mark. "How would you feel, as a mother, if your daughter were involved with your former love?" Remick looks bemused.

The interviews come from Drake's career as a morning show producer at the CBS affiliate in Lincoln, where she also acted on the children's show "Cartoon Corral." She somtimes traveled to New York and Los Angeles to interview stars on their press junkets. 

She saved the footage of her interviews over the years and donated the tapes — hundreds of them — to the Nebraska Historical Soceity. The Historical Society uploaded them to YouTube. From there, the 30-plus-year-old tapes made their way to Twitter .

Though Twitter user John Frankensteiner selected more unfomfortable moments from Drake's career, Drake says stars usually responded well to her questions. In a 1986 interview with Mary Tyler Moore, not featured in the Twitter clip, Moore leans forward and laughs open-mouthed when Drake shows her a 15-year-old photo of the first time they met. She interviewed Gregory Peck twice, once in 1982 and again in 1983, and Peck was earnest and engaged. James Earl Jones liked her so much her asked her on a date after their interview.

"I did my homework before," Drake says. "I would go to the library.  I would work on that particular person I was going to interview to try to find as much as I could about them, and then I wrote little notes. So I was ready to, you know, to come in to ask them some decent questions. And I think they were very appreciative of that."

Among Drake's other stories from here lengthy career is the time she interviewed Stephen King, both of them early in their careers, and challenged him to spend a night in a cemetery with her. She ran into Johnny Carson in New York City while covering a fashion show. Carson was in one of his signature suits, and Drake was in striped red-and-white overalls. She wanted to stand out.

Leta Powell Drake says Johnny Carson gave her the nickname "Leta of Lincoln" after the two met at a fashion show in New York City.
Credit Leta Powell Drake

"They said, 'There's that there's that Leta Powell Drake. She's a troublemaker. Get her.' And so, Johnny came in and he says, 'Where Leta Powell Drake?' Drake says. "So I stood up on the chair, and I said, 'Here I am, Johnny!' And he said, 'What kind of a get up is that?' And I said, "This is how you used to dress when you were at Lincoln, Nebraska in the Carson School of Theater and Film. He says, 'Yeah, that's why I left Nebraska!'"

Carson may have found success after leaving Nebraska, but for Drake it was the other way around. Born in Duluth, Minnesota, she graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1960. She followed her favorite professor to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she acted in plays and designed costumes at the University Theatre while studying for her master's degree.

"He said, 'I'm going to Nebraska to the University of Nebraska. Would you like to come along? I'll give you a scholarship and you can be the costume designer,'" Drake says. "And I thought, 'Nebraska? Where in the heck is that at? Well, I'll go there for a couple of years, get my master's degree, and then I'll be off to Broadway.' Well you know what happens over the course of time. I love Nebraska." 

Drake has lived in Lincoln ever since. She spent more than 20 years at Channels 10/11 and another 13 as the program manager at Nebraska Public Television. She's still a TV personality — she hosts the show "Live and Learn" for seniors. She still acts, too, and she's heavily involved with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers classes and community events to Lincoln residents ages 50 and up.