Bjo and John Trimble Remember Mark Lenard, Trek's Sarek
By StarTrek.com Staff - December 02, 2013
Spock’s father was kidnapped and brought to our house one night. This came as a big surprise to us -- and to Mark Lenard, too. But he took the entire situation very well indeed. It was the first time we’d met him, which made John comment later that it would have been nice to be warned that our home was to be so honored.
The whole thing started quite innocently, as such things do. A couple of Star Trek fans came down from the Bay Area to see Mark play the part of Oberon in A Midsummer’s Night Dream at the old East-West Playhouse. Such a long trip did not seem outrageous to see one of their favorite Star Trek characters enact an entirely different role, and on stage as well. We’re aware that fans today travel much farther than a simple 6-hour drive to see a film or stage favorite, but these were early fannish days.
Being both Star Trek and Shakespeare fans, we joined our friends to see the play. It was excellently staged in costuming as well as casting. A magnificent African-American woman played Titania, a beautiful counterfoil to the staggering male arrogance that characterized Mark’s part. He played the part to the hilt, too.
We very much enjoyed the play, but had to leave right after the performance because we had a babysitter who was promised an early evening. So we left our Bay Area friends at the Playhouse to stand at the stagedoor and hopefully meet Mark in person.
Once home, we paid the babysitter, took off our shoes, and kicked back to await our friends. It wasn’t until then that we realized our friends had no idea where the Playhouse was in relation to our house. We’d met them at the theater, where they’d come directly off the freeway. This was back in primitive times when nobody had cell phones -- except Maxwell Smart. So there was no way to contact them to give directions. We sat back and awaited events.
When the doorbell rang, John answered it, only to be met with a puzzled but genial Mark Lenard, who said, “I was promised a cup of coffee.” Behind the actor were our two excited friends, looking both pleased and scared. One of them said, “We didn’t know of any coffee shop in L.A. so we brought him here. Is that OK?”
John chuckled, opened the door wide, and went to put the coffee pot on. Mark came in, and we invited him to sit down. The ladies whispered that they’d met their idol backstage, and in an attempt to keep him to themselves, they invited him out for coffee and a talk. Fans were still a new phenomenon back then, so Mark had no clue that he probably should not trust them. So he left with them, and unwittingly disappeared off the radar so far as anyone else knew of his whereabouts.
We asked if he was expected to be anywhere else and, to our surprise, he said no. By this time John had coffee for everyone, and even offered some ice cream. But our friends had no time to waste on dessert when they had Sarek to talk to! They began to ply Mark with questions about his character, how he had decided to play it, and was he anything like a Vulcan in real life?
Mark smiled gently and said, “No, I am not at all like a Vulcan. I don’t memorize numbers as Spock seems to do. But then, Sarek is rather old, even for for a Vulcan.” “Not really,” objected one of the ladies, “Sarek was only 100 years old, not very old for a Vulcan.”
“Actually,” said Mark with a perfectly straight face, “Sarek was 102.437 years old.” This left everyone speechless, then we cracked up. As we got to know him a little better, we found that he would suddenly make these subtle double-take comments that left some fans puzzled and the rest very delighted.
After a convivial evening, Mark said it was well past Sarek’s bedtime but how was he to get home? He stated flatly that he was not going to trust himself to two fans who obviously didn’t know their way around the city. So it fell to John to drive Mark to his home, accompanied by the two fans, of course. Bjo had to stay home due to two sleeping toddlers. Oh well!
Subsequently, we met up with Mark Lenard several times through the years, usually when all of us were guesting at the same convention. During our several discussions, we found that Mark was interested in finding out about us; it was characteristic of him to want to know more about everyone. On our side, we found that he was of Russian Jewish origin, had a master’s degree in theater and speech, and did some fine acting in New York.
He described being in the chorus of several operas (something not always noted in his online bios). He related that opera singers never ate before they went onstage, so they all learned to stoke up on concentrated grape juice by eating it right out of the container with a spoon. “It was like super-sugar-rich sherbet,” he explained. He said that the chorus had to walk carefully because the major singers would keep their throats cleared by expectorating in back of them at every chance. “The back of the stage got rather messy,” he grimaced, “and slippery!”
When Mark moved to Los Angeles, his main roles were in Westerns: Hang ‘em High, Gunsmoke, Cimmaron Strip, Wild Wild West, Little House on the Prairie, The Iron Horse, and many more. He was also in other science fiction movies and TV episodes, including Planet of the Apes, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Otherworld, and even a sci-fi/western crossover, Cliffhangers: The Secret Empire.
Many of these films and TV shows also had others who would act in or direct Star Trek. One of his most memorable meetings was with Christopher Plummer when they both acted in Prisoner of Zenda. Mark said he was struck by his fellow actor’s focus and strength of character.
Mark’s original Star Trek role was as the Romulan commander of a ship manned by hitherto unknown aliens in “Balance of Terror”, but he also played a Klingon in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His most famous role was Sarek, father of Spock, whom he first played in the TOS episode "Journey to Babel." This makes him one of the few Trek actors who has played three different alien roles. Though he complained about the smell of latex and the glue, he said that the biggest trial was having his eyebrows shaved off to look more like a Vulcan. “I never knew just how difficult it is to draw eyebrows on yourself,” he said, “but I couldn’t go out of doors without eyebrows!”
After the cancellation of TOS, the actors went their various ways. Some of them showed up in movies and/or on TV, including Mark. He played opposite Leonard Nimoy in a Mission: Impossible episode. He was also cast as the Aaron Stempel, a not-very-villainous heavy in the period comedy TV series, Here Come the Brides. He co-starred with a couple of other Star Trek actors: Robert Brown who played Lazarus in “The Alternative Factor” and David Soul who was Makora in “The Apple”.
But Star Trek was not done with Mark yet. He played Sarek again, if only by voice, when Filmation made Star Trek: The Animated Series. Then he was a Klingon again in the aforementioned first Star Trek movie. After Star Trek was revived with more movies and a new series, Sarek made other appearances: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and, of course, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mark was bemused but grateful that he was called back to play a part so well-loved by so many fans.
Between the 1980s and 90s, Mark did fewer and fewer conventions and other public appearances, but he continued in acting with voice-overs for several commercials and PBS stations. He also taught acting and speech in New York. He was beginning to suffer from an anemic condition that went undiagnosed for far too long. When Mark died in 1996, just weeks after his 72nd birthday, we grieved the loss of a gentle and wonderful man.
We found Mark Lenard to be unfailingly charming, and willing to cooperate with almost all the demands proposed by the convention committee. He was also willing to travel tourist-class to fan conventions, though he was tall and the seats must have been very cramped. Mark knew that fan-run conventions were always on severe budgets, and he did not wish to add any more expenses to their account. This kind of thoughtfulness was characteristic of the man. We were honored to get to know Mark back then and are happy now to be able to share our memories of him.
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