Leta Powell Drake, a Nebraska television pioneer, was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters during Aug. 14 commencement ceremonies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Drake, perhaps, is best known to generations of Lincoln-area children as “Kalamity Kate,” host of an afternoon cartoons program. But her unique brand of celebrity interviews garnered nationwide attention last year when clippings of her “10/11 Morning Show” work went viral.
“In recognition of her extraordinary achievements in the fields of broadcasting and the theater, in honor of her leadership and creative vision in television programming for all ages, in respect of her tireless work as an advocate for the community and in gratitude for her loyalty and lifetime of service for the state of Nebraska and her alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln confers on Leta Powell Drake the honorary degree, doctor of humane letters,” Chancellor Ronnie Green said in presenting the honor.
Drake clasped her hands and tears sprang to her eyes as she watched a video recounting her achievements.
As a single mom, Drake served as program director for Lincoln’s KOLN-TV for 28 years, including creating the character of “Kalamity Kate,” host of the afternoon children’s program, “Cartoon Corral.” She also served as producer of the show from 1967 to 1980.
Along with purchasing and scheduling programs, Drake was a writer, program producer and on-air host for the TV station. She served as public affairs director and director of children’s programming, talent development and sales.
Drake hosted and produced the “10/11 Morning Show” for 25 years and interviewed more than 1,000 movie and TV celebrities, humanitarians and two presidents. In 2020, Drake became an internet sensation when a video went viral featuring clips from numerous interviews with popular movie and TV stars of the day, including “Jaws” star Roy Scheider, “MAS*H” movie star Elliott Gould and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” star Tim Curry. She flirted with Telly Savalas of “Kojak” fame and asked Tom Hanks — whose character in “Splash” fell in love with a mermaid — how he kissed underwater without bubbles coming out of his nose and mouth.
Viewers lauded her for her blunt and sometimes off-the-wall style, but Drake credited her interviewing success to the homework she did before every interview.
After leaving KOLN-TV, Drake served as the assistant network program manager for Nebraska Public Television for 13 years, programming the nine-station state network and cable system. She became the spokesperson for Nebraska Public Television in its fund drives and auctions.
Long active in the community, Drake was one of the creators of the Lincoln Star City Holiday Parade, a popular Lincoln festival, which ended in 2009 after being held for 25 years. She served as host of “Live and Learn,” a program for seniors on 5 City TV and served on the boards of the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, Nebraska Alumni Association and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Nebraska. She is a member of the Nebraska Broadcasters Hall of Fame and the Nebraska Press Women’s Hall of Fame.
She grew up in Duluth, Minnesota, and received a Bachelor of Arts in speech and English from the University of Minnesota. After moving to Lincoln, Drake received a Master of Arts in theatre arts from Nebraska. She is the author of a memoir, “The Calamaties of Kalamity Kate: A History of Nebraska Children’s TV Shows,” published in 2014 by J & L Lee Co.