Mark Lenard

"Mark Lenard: A Class Act"

An Interview with Ann Lenard by The Unknown Patient
Excerpted from
MYELOMA TODAY, Volume 2 Number 7: Summer 1997



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 in December 1996, 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.


The Interview

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 art.

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 history?

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 races.

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 lives?

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 multiple myeloma.

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 recommend?

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 mechanism?

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 notes.

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 death?

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 IMF?

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!