Meet the 'greatest interviewer of all time' whose vintage clips are going viral

Leta Powell Drake, 82, interviewed dozens of celebrities from the late '70s to the early '90s and became known for her unusual questions and commentary.
History Nebraska/ Youtube
/ Source: TODAY

When you watch an interview of a movie star, you don't expect the reporter to tell the guest that they've been in "some stinkers" or to ask how they'd feel if their child was involved with their former lover. But the typical questions celebrities are asked do not interest TV broadcaster Leta Powell Drake from Lincoln, Nebraska.

The 82-year-old has recently gone viral for her unique interview style that involved those exact comments and much more. In 1985, she exchanged two kisses on camera with Telly Savalas from "Kojak," and in 1982, she unabashedly announced to Tim Curry that he "looks evil." From the late '70s to the early '90s, Drake interviewed dozens of celebrities on the press junket for local TV station KOLN.

"I'm delighted that people want to go back into the past and the great characters that we have in television, many of whom are not with us any longer," Drake told TODAY by phone when asked about a recent viral tweet declaring her "the greatest interviewer of all time."

"It's nice to have that history. I'm sure glad I did them and saved the tapes," she added.

While the appeal of Drake's interviews is rooted in how candid she is, her success actually comes from lots of preparation.

"I made it look like it was off the cuff. It wasn't," she recalled. "I put a great deal of research into it before I actually did them. And of course, we didn't have access to all the things that we can get so easily on the web. I'd try to find a book or I'd go to the library. I'd get background on the people."

And it worked: Tom Hanks even told Drake in 1984, around the release of the movie "Splash," that he could "listen to (her) all day long."

"Some (celebrities) were very glad to have someone who knew something about them because I saw a lot of people who came in unprepared," Drake said. "They'd say, 'Tell us about your career, Mr. Carson,' and they'd go, 'Oh, God.' ... It's boring.'"

"I worked very hard to make it look easy," she added. "Some (interviews) were good, but they weren't all very good."

Among her favorites was the interview she did with Peter Billingsley, who starred in "A Christmas Story" as Ralphie. "I interviewed the little boy when he was a little boy, and then he goes on to be a big star," she gushed.

Drake also proudly recalled interviewing late comedian and singer George Burns when he was 99, shortly before he died at age 100. And she laughed about going swimming with actor John Candy.

"Carol Burnett was fun," she quipped before ending the list of standouts with Captain Kangaroo.

Drake, who's in the Nebraska Broadcasting Hall of Fame, has packed several careers' worth of big-name interviews into her lifetime, but she's not retired yet. She currently hosts a program for seniors called "Live & Learn" on local station 5 City TV, which she records once a month. She's interviewed Black Lives Matter activists and members of the Metropolitan Opera, she said.

Told that she's become a national treasure, Drake didn't exactly disagree. Instead, her reply showed off her knack for asking the tough questions: "If I'm a treasure, then where's the money?"