Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Behold the raw, celebrity-bewildering power of Nebraska TV legend Leta Powell Drake

Illustration for article titled Behold the raw, celebrity-bewildering power of Nebraska TV legend Leta Powell Drake
Screenshot: YouTube

There are few aspects of the entertainment industry more on-the-surface demoralizing than the celebrity junket, an industrial assembly line of day-long interviews in which famous people are asked to be professionally charming for 8 straight hours, while journalists in desperate need of a good quote dare them to say something interesting for a change. Even for the greatest interviewers, and the gamest stars, the whole process tends to be exhausting bordering on spiritually destructive. But for those in need of little emotional refreshment—whether you’re trapped in your own personal junket hell, or just life in general—we’d like to direct you to the work of Nebraska entertainment journalist and new personal hero Leta Powell Drake, a woman who never met a famous person she wouldn’t ask, “Hey, why are your eyes so weird?”

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Powell (who’s still alive, well, and incredibly charming and feisty, per an interview she gave with Vulture today) spent several years hosting and producing a morning news show for Lincoln’s KOLN/KGIN, a job that saw her fly out to New York and L.A. on a regular basis for interviews with the stars of the day. (She also had a second gig as “Kalamity Kate,” host of the network’s Cartoon Corral—she wrote a book about that particular heavily be-wigged gig.) And in those interviews, Drake displayed a remarkable talent for not appearing to especially give a damn how confused or perplexed she was making her celebrity partners, whether that meant gently needling Elliott Gould about how much money Alan Alda ended up making off the TV version of M*A*S*H, or bluntly telling Gene Hackman, “You’ve done some brilliant pictures, and you’ve done some stinkers.” (Hackman: “Really?”)

Drake’s work has been getting passed around the internet today courtesy of a tweeted-out video from John Frankensteiner, who assembled some of her most amazing moments—telling Tim Curry he has an “evil face,” flirting aggressively with Telly Savalas, following up a question about working with Richard Burton with an airy “And now he’s dead!”—from the online collection of the Nebraska Historical Society, who Drake gave the tapes of all her old interviews to, and which now hosts all 262 of them online. And it really is a treasure trove of material, hovering somewhere between “intentionally funny” and “real-life Joan Callamezzo from Parks And Rec,as Drake cheerfully grills many of the most famous actors on the planet about, yes, their projects, but also their facial idiosyncrasies, dead relatives, and missed opportunities. (Tom Selleck seems very sad about not being Indiana Jones.) The TV personality attributes her own longevity in the business to her diligent research on her subjects, which is presumably why she asked, say, Gould—in reference to some previous quote—“You don’t consider yourself a great actor, do you?”, which appears to have thrown the otherwise stoic actor for a genuine loop. But there’s also a certain unquestionable bravery that runs through all her interviews; Michael Keaton (Douglas?) (Keaton) might be hot shit in Hollywood, but he’s never had to stare down the kids at the Cartoon Corral. Also, you’ve never really lived until you’ve watched a local Nebraska morning show legend reckon with Newhart’s Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, and acerbically demand of them, “Have you washed?!”

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