An Interview with Ann Lenard
Mark Lenard the actor, was best known as Sarek, Spock's father, and as a succession of noble aliens in Star Trek television and motion picture outings. He became forever linked to the IMF this past December, when he died after a short, valiant battle with that ogre that haunts our existence— multiple myeloma. His wife, Ann, talked with the Unknown Patient about her life with Mark and their struggle with myeloma.
Unknown Patient: How did you and Mark meet?
Ann Lenard: We were in an acting class together. I
was working as a fashion model, Mark as an actor. We were not
immediately drawn together. I thought, “Here’s a typical conceited
actor.” At the same time, Mark was thinking, “Here’s a typical
vapid model.” But, we quickly got over our first impressions.
UP: Were you a model and an actress?
AL: Actually, neither. I dipped one toe into the
theater for about two years, but modeling helped pay tuition bills
while I was studying to be an Art Historian. I eventually worked in
this field for several museums, specializing in 19th Century French
UP: How did Mark get into acting?
AL: Mark’s parents ran a resort and had sent him to
school at the tender age of 4. He graduated from high school at age 16
and wanted to enter the Foreign Service. Mark wound up going off to
fight World War II. When he came back, he wanted to be an author and
moved to New York to write. Oddly enough, a friend was producing a
play about James Joyce (“Exiles”) and wanted a writer to play the
lead. Mark gave it a try and found his calling. Mark loved the
classics. He performed Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare with notables
such as Gielgud and Olivier. He starred in the national company of
“A Far Country” as Sigmund Freud.
UP: How did he ever wind up cast in Star Trek?
AL: Mark never wanted to leave New York. He wanted to
be a Broadway actor. For two years running in the mid-60’s, there
was only one dramatic play mounted. Prospects did not look bright for
a serious actor so we decided to move. Mark was born in the country
and thought Los Angeles would be like moving to the country, so we
moved to Los Angeles. We thought it would be fun for a year or two.
Then, one month later, Mark was offered the role of the Romulan
commander in the original Star Trek series.
UP: And the rest was
AL: Well, not quite. Mark was quite active outside of
Star Trek. He was a regular on “Here Comes The Brides,” and
“Planet Of The Apes.” He guest starred in other series, including
“Gunsmoke” and “Mission Impossible”. A highlight of his career
was appearing with Laurence Olivier in “The Power and the Glory.”
His other films included “Annie Hall,” “The Greatest Story Ever
Told,” and “Hang ‘Em High.”
UP: He had a very successful and varied career. As
for Star Trek, Mark must hold the record for number of incarnations,
playing prominent characters belonging to no less than three alien
AL: He began as the Romulan commander in “Balance
of Terror.” His second year in California, he started his most
memorable role in Star Trek — Sarek, the Vulcan Ambassador,
Spock’s father. Mark played Sarek in the original series(“Journey
to Babel”), in the Star Trek movies, and in the Next Generation TV
series. He also played a Klingon Commander.
UP: His roots in classical theater certainly showed
in his on-screen persona. Just last week, I flipped on the TV and saw
him as Sarek, in that scene from “The Next Generation” where
he’s listening to the string quartet and is slowly moved to tears.
What a regal presence he was!
AL: Mark loved the classics and always kept his hand
in the theater. He and Walter Köenig (“Chekhov” of Star Trek
fame) often worked together in “Actors” and “The Boys of
Autumn.” They performed these plays at Star Trek conventions and on
short tours. In “The Boys of Autumn,” Mark would play Huck Finn
and Walter would play Tom Sawyer.
UP: Eventually, you did move back to New York.
AL: Mark became the spokesman for SAAB , and most of
those commercials were taped in New York. So, we got to spend several
months a year in New York.
UP: How and when did multiple myeloma enter into your
AL: It was October, 1995. Mark came home from a
massage and thought the therapist had broken his rib. He went to his
doctor and had an X-ray and it looked fine. So, he went about his
business. And then, at the beginning of December, he had been running
around taping commercials and he came home very tired and complaining
of severe back pain. The doctor admitted him to the hospital to find
out what was wrong. They did all sorts of tests over a four day
period. One test showed that he was anemic. So, they called in a
hematologist. The hematologist did a bone marrow biopsy and discovered
UP: It sounds like you found out what was going on
very quickly. Many people who present with serious symptoms go for
months without getting an accurate diagnosis. In my case, it was the
better part of eight months from first symptom to diagnosis. Mark,
however, was anemic, fatigued and had bone pain at diagnosis.
AL: Yes. I remember what the doctor said after the
diagnosis. He said that the prognosis was excellent. He said they
would give Mark plasmapheresis and chemotherapy and he should be fine
for several years. It seems like such a contradiction now, given that
Mark was Stage III at that point.
UP: Well, not necessarily, I've been Stage III for
years now. It really depends on how well you respond to treatment and
how much your body chemistry is disrupted by the disease. Did he have
any kidney problems when he was diagnosed?
AL: No. They found that it had not affected any of
the other organs at that time.
UP: It sounds as if he was what is called Stage III
A, which has a better prognosis than Stage III B, which is when people
are in Stage III and also have kidney problems. So, what did they
AL: They put him on melphalan and prednisone, which
he seemed to tolerate just fine with the first treatment. The second
cycle, though, he had a very bad reaction. It seemed to affect his
stomach and he lost weight. Because Mark had diabetes, they kept him
in the hospital for each cycle to monitor the dosages very closely and
also manage his insulin and blood sugar levels. After the second
cycle, he came home and seemed to feel somewhat better, although the
back pain was still severe. But then, it seemed to get into the
nervous system and affected his ability to swallow. And, from that
point on, the struggle wasn't only against the myeloma. It was also
against the aspiration pneumonia that developed because he was
swallowing into his lungs.
UP: He had a neuropathy that affected the swallowing
AL: Yes. We were told that it was very rare. Whatever
the reason, he continued to swallow into his lungs. So, he kept
getting these pneumonias. They kept pulling him out of one pneumonia
after another. He was in the hospital and tested often to see what
bacteria were present and what antibiotic they could give him. It was
like this virtually from March 1996 until November, when he died.
UP: That’s more severe and faster than almost any
experience I've heard about.
AL: It was this constant problem with pneumonia. The
myeloma went into partial remission after three more cycles of
chemotherapy, this time with Vincristine and Adriamycin (VAD).
UP: When Mark was diagnosed, what did you do, other
than what you had to do immediately to deal with the disease?
AL: Well, because of the pain, he felt exhausted. So,
we just tried to conserve his energy. He didn't really want to talk to
a lot of people. He just wanted to block everything out and save his
energy. One of my daughters was very interested in alternative
approaches. She sent me all of these books about alternative
therapies— not that we would have considered that as a substitute
for traditional therapy, but really in addition to the other things we
were doing. We started massaging him every day, doing physical therapy
and playing tapes, trying to keep him entertained. But, basically, he
wanted to close out the world and concentrate on fighting the illness.
UP: How did you deal with it?
AL: I just tried to think of ways to keep his morale
up. For the first two cycles of chemotherapy, his morale was
excellent. But after he went back into the hospital for the third time
and started with the continual pneumonias, he got very tired. I would
go to the hospital every day to play tapes for him and to massage him.
He couldn't deal with physical therapy at that point. So, they taught
me how to do parts of the physical therapy.
UP: How did Mark handle the situation?
AL: Mark was a very intelligent man and he had a
tremendous amount of pride. I think that whatever he felt about it, he
didn't want other people to know, including me. Occasionally, I was
aware that he was scared, but he’d try not to show that.
UP: How did you deal with it?
AL: I tried to stay positive because I felt it was
the only thing that I could do to help Mark. The doctors started
giving a poor prognosis at the end of March, 1996. I really just tried
to do everything I could to keep both of us positive. I wanted to feel
that if Mark died, he would at least have lived in hope. Many of our
family and friends were very supportive. What I found the most
supportive were notes they would send. I was spending each day with
Mark in the hospital. And, when I came home, I found that I was tired
and needed time to recharge my own energy. I didn't want to talk on
the phone. So, everyone kept sending Mark such nice cards and personal
UP: How widely known was it that Mark had myeloma?
AL: We didn't tell any of Mark’s professional
friends that he had myeloma. When he was diagnosed, we got the
impression that it would be like the diabetes— that it could be
controlled via medications and that he would be able to go on working.
In March, when he had to be hospitalized for pneumonia and the outlook
changed, I decided not to go public because I felt it would be too
hard for me to keep everyone updated and I wanted to focus on Mark.
So, we didn't tell anyone, except for a few member of our family,
anything until the last month.
UP: As “The Unknown Patient”, I certainly respect
that point of view. So, eventually, Mark succumbed to the infections?
AL: Eventually, the stress on his liver from the
infections and the effects of malnutrition became too much for him.
Throughout it all, Mark was determined to hold on. And, until his
kidneys began to fail, he could hold on. His doctors would tell me
that they couldn't believe how strong he was. My daughter wanted him
to be seen by a faith healer. So, we had him seen in the hospital by a
woman who was a faith healer. After she saw Mark, she told me that he
was holding on for me and that I needed to let him know that he had a
choice. Mark died shortly thereafter from kidney failure.
UP: How did Mark’s fans react to the news of his
AL: They sent thousands of cards and really wonderful
letters. People said such nice things about Mark. Some even said that
the character of Sarek had inspired them to change their lives.
UP: When I learned that Mark had died of
complications of myeloma, I went into our database and found that you
contacted the IMF last April. How did you come to find out about the
AL: I had questions that I didn't think it was
reasonable to take up the doctor’s time with. So, I called the
National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the NCI gave me information about
how to reach the IMF. I called the IMF several times. I wanted to fill
in the gaps in what the doctors had told me and I relied heavily on
the NCI and the IMF for this information. I had questions about
chemotherapy options. I also wanted to find out whether anything could
be done about the neuropathy. So, I called organizations dealing with
other conditions that affect the nerves. I called organizations
dealing with AIDS, Alzheimer’s, strokes, Parkinson’s Disease,
hoping to find out something that we could do.
UP: If you were to give advice to people who were
newly diagnosed, or had a loved one who was recently diagnosed, what
would you say to them?
AL: I think I’d emphasize something that Dr.
Thompson said in Myeloma Today, which is that you don’t only want to
be an informed patient, you also want to be included in the decisions.
If they tell you they want to give Alkeran instead of Vincristine, you
are in on the decision. And, be sure you understand why it’s
necessary to do something before you do it. I would also advise people
to call the IMF and write to the IMF, as well as the NCI, and their
local cancer center to get as much information as possible.
UP: Well, thank you. We appreciate your taking the time to tell your story. I’m pleased that the IMF was able to be of help. And, as one of Mark’s many fans, I’d like to thank you for sharing him with us. He was a class act!