The Lovely Leta!
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
In what has become a true highlight of a dismal year, Leta Powell Drake took over the internet with this viral video and gave America something to be thankful for this year.
The Leta Powell Drake compilation video posted by online film critic John Frankensteiner that went viral.
Leta Powell Drake has been hiding in plain site for the past 56 years. Now, thanks to online movie critic John Frankensteiner, a compilation video of Leta Powell Drake celebrity interviews from the 70s and 80s went viral. With an interview style that's been described as having the charm of Mary Hart, the enthusiasm of Jimny GlIck and the bluntness of Mike Wallace, it's no surprise that over 8 million people have watched the video and tweeted their admiration for her.
Her amazing career of 59 years (and counting) spans the history of television itself. She made her start in 1956 as the "Bingo Girl" on a live Bingo show for KDAL-TV in Duluth. For 15 years she was the host of KOLN Nebraska's Cartoon Corral where as host she created the beloved character Kalamity Kate. She went on to produce and host the Morning Show for twenty five years where she interviewed a who’s who of movie and tv stars including Tom Hanks, Jack Lemmon and Bob Hope. She is in the Nebraska Broadcasters Hall of Fame and currently hosts and produces Live And Learn, a show for senior citizens on Lincoln Nebraska's cable access channel.
Here's a little trip down memory lane of the amazing career of the woman that Johnny Carson dubbed "Leta Of Lincoln" ... Leta Powell Drake.
Leta Can You Lend Us A Hand
Leta started her TV career back in 1956 on the CBS affiliate KTAL in Duluth, Minnesota.
"So I started in television when television was really three years old."
She never thought it would last; "It was, it was so bad.
Her first job was as the night receptionist — one of the few jobs in television available to women.
“The news room wasn’t just locked to women, it was bolted and there was rebar in the glass ceiling,”
Television was a live medium back then. "Television was in its infancy and we're doing live commercials and only guys are there at night and only guys are doing the news. So therefore, when they had to do a commercial that required somebody hands. So they say, Lena, we need your hands."
You're Gonna Make It After All
Leta was also the "Bingo Girl" for the live Bingo show on KTAL. She moved to Lincoln in 1960 where she began working for KLIN radio and KOLN-TV. She continued to do live commercials and eventually became public affairs director, director of children's programming, talent development and sales.
In 1967, Leta created the character of Kalamity Kate on KOLN's long running live afternoon kids show the Cartoon Corral. In fact, prior to her montage of interviews going viral, Leta was best known as Kalamity Kate.
When Leta was approached to replace the original host [Sherif Bill] she had her own ideas for the show. "I wanted to be a rocket ship lady and I had, I was a licensed pilot. So I could envision myself in a silver Lamé suit, you know, and have a rocket ship. And that's what I wanted to be."
The station owners didn't want to do that because they had invested a lot of money involved in that set "And so I came on as Kalamity, Kate. the lady sheriff, and the rest is history."
"So you got to have the big hair, you got to have the braids and you got to have the Western outfit with the friends skirt. And I got the boots. Yeah. I asked all of them the same, very simple question. What is your name? Where are you from? What are you going to be when you grow up?"
Leta Powell Drake in full Kalamity Kate regalia.
I Am Woman Hear Me Roar
Leta still makes appearances as Kalamity Kate; "The Cartoon Corral show went off the air about 24 years ago. Hardly a day goes by today that someone doesn't come up to me and say, I was on your show or, or I watched a show all the time. It never ceases to amaze me the power of the impressions that television had when there were only three stations."
Leta wore many hats in her 28 years at KILN. As program director, she purchased and scheduled programs, and she served as a writer, program producer, and on-air host of The 10/11 Morning Show for 25 years. She interviewed more than 1,000 movie and TV celebrities, humanitarians and two presidents.
Leta was also an actress and serious about her craft performing in local theatre.
“I did not plan to stay in Lincoln. I was going to Broadway. Once I got to 10/11, I hosted the Morning Show and Cartoon Corral. One day I looked at my watch and I said, ‘Whoops!’ Twenty years have gone by! I love Lincoln. It’s my home.”
Leta did all of this while raising her son Aaron as a single mom. “When you have a small child and you are raising that child by yourself, the vagaries of the theatre district in the big city are not good for a precious little boy,” she said. “My primary responsibility was to him and make sure his life was as good and stressfree as possible. I loved my job. I could be on the stage here and encourage Aaron in his swimming. He made it to the Olympic Time Trials in the 100-meter breaststroke. Lincoln was the perfect home for us. Nebraska is home.”
After 15 years of hosting both The Morning Show and the Cartoon Corral, Leta hung up her spurs to focus on the Morning Show.
"I mean, I just did it. That was my job. And I did it and, you know, I had to get up real early and spent longer, but I loved it. I, I just, I left it with not great regret because it was a lot of work. And besides now I was the program director of the TV station and I had other commitments and responsibilities, but I still had my morning show."
"And I really thought that the morning show would never go away because it was in many ways of public service. All of the people who have requests from the station could get on the morning show. So I thought that was really pure."
"I put a great deal of work into that. I mean, I we're having people coming through who are authors. I read their books. I did my homework. I mean, I was ready."
A Star is Re-Born
Over the years, Leta had interviewed hundreds of celebrities on the Morning Show...a who’s who of movie and tv stars including Tom Selleck, Michael Keaton and Kirk Douglas.
She sill had all of the tapes and a few years ago decided to donate them to the Nebraska History Museum. "They had to bring a truck out to take all the boxes.” In 2017, Nebraska History uploaded 262 interviews to their YouTube channel.
Now we get to the part of the story when the rest of the country discovered what Lincoln, Nebraska already knew. On November 9th, online film critic John Frankensteiner discovered this treasure trove of interviews and put together a compilation of highlights of some of the best moments.
He tweeted this compilation with the following message; "Currently obsessed with Leta Powell Drake, the greatest interviewer of all time." and within a day it had amassed over 8 million views (and that number goes up every day.)
Many people made the same observation that Leta's show was clearly an influence on Zach Galifianakis' spoof interview show Between Two Ferns.
Leta with Elliot Gould on The Morning Show and Zach Galifianakis with Brad Pitt on "Between Two Ferns"
Even some new high profile fans weighed in like actor Tom Arnold, View host Meghan McGain and New York Times critic Janet Maslin.
How can you not love a talk show where the host has no fear of repercussions from some of her questions. Here's a sample;
To Gene Hackman “You’ve done some brilliant pictures, you’ve done some stinkers” (“Really,” he replies mildly),
Asking a stunned looking Elliott Gould; “Do you have any regrets about not going into the series “MASH”? who answers no and is countered with. “No? They’ve all made a fortune, Elliott.”
To Lee Remick "How would you feel, as a mother if your daughter were involved with your former love?"
Leta was so beguiling in some of her interviews (especially with Telly Savalas and James Early Jones) that you can see them crushing on her. Savalas kissed her twice during their interview and Jones asked her out for dinner afterward. Jones was one of Leta's favorte interviews. "He liked me so much he wanted me to go out that night for a date. And I was already gonna go out so I said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t.'”
You might be wondering how the heck did Leta get all of these big names to do her little morning show in Lincoln, Nebraska. Well it turns out that KOLN (which was a CBS Network affiliate) would fly Leta to CBS studios in New York to cover press junkets. "I was going to New York all the time and interviewing all the TV stars. And we were all there in the finest hotels and all the time everything was first class and, you know, in Nebraska, we’re fourth class. So it was always nice to get a free ride to the New York City."
Leta also regularly attended the fashion shows in New York and on one such trip had a memorable exchange with the King Of late Night himself (and fellow Nebraskan) Johnny Carson.
Leta, always the flashy dresser made quite the impression with Carson when she walked into the room at one of the fashion shows.
"I came in wearing one of my outfits. It’s a striped pantsuit. It was ludicrous. It was just bright red, bright white. Johnny looked at some of his people, and he says, “Who is that person back there way in the back?” And they just told him, “Oh, that’s Leta of Lincoln?” And he just shouted, “Where’s that Leta, that Leta of Lincoln?” I’ve been called Leta of Lincoln ever since."
There's No Stopping Kalamity Kate
Leta has been doing this for 56 years and at 83 there is no slowing her down! She was inducted into the Nebraska Broadcasters Associates Hall of Fame in 2010. She was featured on the cover of Living Well magazine in 2013. In 2014 she authored "The Calamities of Kalamity Kate: A History of Nebraska's Children's TV Shows" and she still hosts AND produces her own show; Live And Learn, a show for senior citizens on Lincoln Nebraska's cable access channel.
In recent years, Leta became involved with the Osher Lifelong Living Institute "which was a natural fit me.” Drake started taking OLLI classes. “It was so interesting, I began to get more involved and take more classes. And what happens when you really love something? You get more committed. Now I’m overcommitted. Some people say I should be committed,”
Leta Powell video tribute for the Nebraska Broadcasters Associates Hall of Fame in 2010.
Leta hosting Live And Learn, a show for senior citizens on Lincoln Nebraska's cable access channel.
She's Still The Sheriff
It's fitting that out of all of Leta Powell Drake's many accomplishments in television, she is perhaps proudest of Kalamity Kate and it's positive influence over a generation of Nebraskans children...even to this very day.
"So here it is these many years later and people, they will still, when I say to them, you were on the show. Oh yeah. I said, what did you say you were going to be when you, I grew up farmer, be in electronics and they can tell me they can tell me about that experience. That's how significant it was."
Leta's biography and posing with her alter ego Kalamity Kate.
You can see an interview that Leta just did on "Ten Minutes With Brian Kelsey" and read all about it here.
Leta on "Ten Minutes With Brian Kelsey.