Although he presented a worldly and urbane persona to the world, Mark Lenard grew up a simple country boy in rural South Haven on Lake Michigan. Born Leonard Rosenson, in Chicago on October 15, 1924**, he was the oldest of four sons of Abraham, a Russian Jewish immigrant, and his wife Bessie, whom he had met in New York before moving on to the Midwest.
His early school years were spent in the long-vanished world of a one-room school house, which he entered at the ripe old age of four. By the time he had almost finished high school, the lure of city life, coupled with a growth spurt, sent him packing. At fifteen, he ran away to Chicago, where he had relatives, and where he found work at a smelting plant, pretending to be eighteen. He soon realized the grime of factory work was not for him, and in 3 months was back in South Haven. At the age of sixteen, he had enrolled in the University of Michigan as a literature major, planning at that time to become a writer.
Enlisting at the end of World War II, he tried to make up for his late entry into the service by becoming a paratrooper, but by that time, the war had almost ended, and the most jumping he did was in post-war airshows. It was during this time in Europe that he first started acting, when he was picked out of the audition audience for a lead role in an Army presentation of Volpone to tour throughout Europe.
After the war, he spent some time traveling and studying in Europe, at one point considering a career in the foreign service. Returning to the United States, for a short time he attended the New School in NYC. Still restless, he left New York to explore the country, finally returning to the University of Michigan where he earned a Master's Degree in theatre and speech having decided on acting as career.
The 1950s found him again in New York with a stage career that flourished through that decade, becoming well known for his work in Ibsen and Chekov revivals. Mark was seen on Broadway in Shakespeare'sMuch Ado About Nothing with John Gielgud; Paddy Chayevsky's Gideon,Carson McCuller's The Square Root of Wonderful, and A Case of Libel. His Off-Broadway credits included appearances in New York's Shakespeare-in-the-Park series as well as the revivals of Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw, and other distinguished playwrights, for which he received awards for his outstanding performances.
He continued to study acting throughout this time, meeting his future wife, Ann, at one such class, later to tour with her in the road company of A Far Country in which he starred as Sigmund Freud, one of his favorite roles. The couple married and had two daughters, Roberta and Catherine, and it was Cathy's diagnosis of juvenile diabetes at the age of 2 that prompted Mark's active role in fundraising for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation that he would continue with for the rest of his life.
By the mid-1960s, Mark came to the conclusion that he had explored the limits of his stage career, at the same time realizing that New York City was not where he and Ann would prefer to raise their family. Initially traveling to LA for his first film role as Balthazar in The Greatest Story Ever Told, it was his first West Coast TV appearance that was to forever change the course of his life: the role of the unnamed Romulan Commander in the Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror." It was the offer to return the following season that would give him the role he would be most remembered for, that of Sarek of Vulcan.
His portrayal of Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan, the father of series regular Mr. Spock, in the episode Journey to Babel endeared him to the show's many fans, who would be thrilled to see him continue the role in the large-screen adventures Star Trek III,IV, and VI. Reprising Sarek in two episodes of The Next Generation, and lending his voice to the same character in Star Trek V and the animated episode Yesteryear, Mark was the only non-series-regular to appear in all incarnations of this perennial favorite at the time. For years, this role together with his stints as the Klingon captain in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Romulan commander in Star Trek's Balance of Terror episode, made Mark the subject of the Jeopardy! question: Who was the only actor to have portrayed a member of each of the definitive three alien races of the Star Trek world?
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mark had costarring roles in two series—the first, Here Come the Brides, as mill owner Aaron Stempel, was to have a two-year run on ABC (1968 to 1970); the second was less successful: Planet of the Apes only managed a thirteen-week run on CBS. Later, Apes would achieve a cult status and can still be seen in reruns on the SciFi Channel several times a year.
Mark also made numerous guest appearances on many popular series of the times: Hawaii 50, Mission: Impossible, Buck Rogers, Gunsmoke, The Incredible Hulk, To Catch A Thief, Alias Smith and Jones,The Rookies, Felony Squad, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Wild, Wild West to name just a few. He also narrated the prestigious miniseries QBVII.
In early 1980 he was cast as a regular in a final series, Cliffhangers, but that suffered the same fate as Apes, ending after thirteen weeks. Soon afterward, Mark had started to teach acting in New York City and spent his time commuting between coasts. Though he still made an occasional TV and film appearances, he would now largely moved into the lucrative field of voiceover work. He became well-known as the spokesperson for Saab, as well as lending his distinctive voice to numerous national and local commercials, and doing commentary for The Learning Channel, Discovery, PBS, and the Hayden Planetarium in NYC.
Throughout the early 1990s he toured throughout the country with Walter Koenig in the play The Boys in Autumn. His last television appearance was to be a role on In the Heat of the Night, and after his contract with Saab ended, he became the national spokesperson for Zenith, which he held up until the time of his illness. In early 1996, Mark was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Soon afterwards he entered the hospital, were he stayed till his death on November 22, 1996.
In real life, he was a sharp contrast to the heavy roles in which Hollywood most frequently cast him. He liked to relate the story of his work in Otherworld, where the director, upon learning he was cast in the role, decided against an additional make-up effect, believing that Mark was mean-looking enough without it. In reality, he was kind man, sitting for hours on end signing autograph after autograph without charge, never seeming to lose patience, always ready to pose for a picture (once the glasses came off!). On stage he was a vibrant and enthusiastic speaker who never seemed to tire of telling the same bad jokes over and over again. (What's the difference between a Klingon and a pig? There are some things a pig won't do! ) Off stage, he was a soft-spoken and generous man, who once you got to know him, still showed traces of the country boy from long ago. Though certainly not a perfect man (who among us is?), Mark was truly a beautiful human being both inside and out, and one cannot but be proud to have had the honor to know him.
**During his lifetime, Mark's official year of birth was listed as 1927. More frequently, when asked how old he was he would reply, How old do you think I am?
Biography and graphics © 2007 Mary Stacy.
May not be reproduced or linked to without expressed permission of the author.