Mark Lenard was an American actor who played the role of Chief of Security Urko on the 1974 television series, Planet of the Apes. In addition to playing guest roles on various programs, Lenard is most widely recognized for his contributions to the Star Trek mythos, where he played the character of the Vulcan Ambassador Sarek, the father to Mr. Spock. Lenard seemed to be a man blessed - or cursed - with a career that involved him with physical appliances: first, the Vulcan ears; then, the full gorilla application of Urko, chief law officer of the Ape Council.
Mark Lenard was born Leonard Rosenson in Chicago and was raised in South Haven, Michigan. Being a professional writer (his favourite writing medium was fiction), Lenard was concise in summing up his own life and career: "Beginning with aspirations for the Foreign Service, gravitating gradually through writing, and arriving at an acting career has given my creative energies ample outlet. I joined the paratroops and served in Europe during World War II in the 82nd Airborne Divn. in a Pathfinder crew as a radar specialist. After 21 jumps, one more than my age at the time, I was discharged. With the aid of the Government I enrolled in a university in Southern France. There I joined the company of a play intended for local production. It was chosen to tour Europe and I left school and went along. The plays were Ben Jonson's Volpone and Noel Coward's Hayfever. In one I was an heroic but somewhat square sea captain and in the other a boxer. When the tour ended after six months a theatrical career had become inevitable. After returning home I attended the University of Michigan, the New School in New York and the Carnegie Institute of Technology. In New York I studied with Lee Strasberg, Uta Hagen, Mira Rostova, et al." "If I were to categorize myself, I suppose I am a method actor who can play the classics. Good fortune gave me the opportunity to work with such diverse talents as John Gielgud, Margaret Leighton and Laurence Olivier, and Americans like Ruth Gordon, Julie Harris and Walter Matthau. In the theatre I have played everything from 'Oedipus' to 'Three Men on a Horse'. During my 'stock period' of six years I appeared in some 60 plays running the gamut from classical drama to modern realism to farce. I have done eight Broadway shows and innumerable off-Broadway, stock and touring plays. Three of the off-Broadway plays won 'Best Production of the Year' awards. I have personally won distinguished acting awards and special mention for outstanding performance in Theatre World."
6' 1", 180 lbs Lenard's first feature film was The Greatest Story Ever Told; others included Hang 'Em High and Noon Sunday. He was a frequent guest on '60s TV shows, such as Mission: Impossible, Gunsmoke, It Takes a Thief, Hawaii Five-O and Mannix, in addition to his two appearances on Star Trek as Sarek and as a Romulan Commander from the 1967-68 season episode, 'Balance of Terror': he had his own fan club and was invited to the annual Star Trek national conventions. He co-starred as the main antagonist in the Here Come the Brides TV series for 52 episodes between 1968 and 1970, and narrated the television special QB VII (1974). Lenard enjoyed reading, tennis, swimming, hiking and photography in his spare time and also continued his stage work whenever possible; he toured extensively, in A Far Country, and appeared in regional productions of The Rainmaker, Posmersolm, Old Times and The Devils, and was also interested in stage directing.
In 1974, Mark Lenard was offered the part of gorilla leader Urko in the weekly Planet of the Apes TV series. "I saw the first [Apes film], which - of the ones I’ve seen - made the deepest impression on me. I think that's partially because of the shock value of the whole thing. I didn't know what to expect and I was fascinated with it, but I never dreamed of playing an ape." "One day in May, I was asked if I was interested in going down and reading for it. So I went down to the office - and I must admit that I had kind of peculiar feelings about it, reading for the gorilla. But I was kind of - I was a little bit disappointed, I guess. Or my feelings were hurt a little bit. I think that was my attitude towards it but then I thought about it - I actually talked about it to several people - including directors and others. I said, well, Maurice Evans played an ape; he's a fine, Shakespearian actor, and lots of very important actors had played apes. And that was the thing that kept me going. So I went down and I read for the part of the gorilla - there were an awful lot of people there, and all kinds. And I read for it, and I never expected to get it. The next day there were readings for Zaius, as I found out later on, and the day after that they called couples down to the studio. And there were three couples: one Zaius and one Urko - Ursus, as he was called at the time; they changed the name to Urko - and each of them read again, together. I read with Booth Colman; but I found out that the studio had already chosen - decided on us - and were just discussing it with CBS. And it was as simple as that... It was a series and... everybody expected it to be a blockbuster. There's nothing like being with a top show. And I thought that I would work a couple of days a show and have lots of time to do other things - writing and directing - so it was for those reasons that I decided to go ahead with it."
Interviewed during TV series filming in late 1974, Lenard found working through the ape makeup application difficult, but tolerable. "It is not easy. It’s very uncomfortable and the costume and all is very hot with tremendously long hours - you used to get in to make-up, if you were in the first shot, at five in the morning - and stay there for three hours; now they’re going to bring people in at four in the morning - I don’t know if that will be for the studio but certainly for location at the ranch... But as far as wearing the stuff is concerned, when it gets hot - or when it gets very cold - it’s very uncomfortable. It's a constant kind of strain. It took me, I think, 'til the third show to be completely free and unaware of the make-up... You hear a lot of stories: stories came from Roddy [McDowall] and stories came from make-up men who worked on the movies, and others, and they tell you that you can’t move your face too much, because it loosens everything up and you can’t eat - or you have to sit in front of a mirror to eat, or you have to drink liquids all day long, all kinds of things, which were wrong, I discovered. And I find now that I can do anything I want in the make-up - I can laugh, smile, anything." "At first, I had to use a mirror to make sure I was getting the food in my mouth. But now I can eat without the mirror. I can eat almost everything but some things are impossible to handle. I ordered spareribs one day and I simply couldn't manage them." "And you get used to the strange muffled sound; there’s hair and everything all around your face and your ears and you don’t hear yourself and you’re not sure that you’re talking or that you can be understood - but after you get used to it - and it took me, as I say, until about the third show, it just happened like a flash - and from then on it was just as though I didn’t have anything on at all. Easy. Except that I have to maintain the posture of a gorilla, which isn't easy; I have to walk like a gorilla, and all that sort of thing. And you do character things, as though you were playing an old man, and one of them is, like, twitching your nose; y’know, moving your face. And that seems to help bring things to life. But it’s like acting in any other medium; it’s what you feel that comes through, and your voice; of course, is very important, but the emotion is more important. Of course, it has to be shot properly; in this case, the close-ups are, by far, the best. And profiles are all right if they're close enough, otherwise you lose a lot of the expression." "The whole thing is tiring, because just being in that damned suit, in that make-up, all day long is kind of a drain. At first it used to take me the whole weekend to get feeling normal again. One day off wasn’t enough, because, without realizing it, being in that thing is a kind of a strain. I don’t notice it; y’know, it’s in your mind, so it’s really a sort of mind control, and you’ve got to turn it off. Some people, some actors just can’t do this show because they're claustrophobic or else they have a thing about that; and you really get encased in it, with the appliances and the make-up and the hair and the wig and the helmet and God knows what all; it can drive you crazy. But if you're fairly relaxed there is a strain without you being aware of it. And towards the end of the day, it really wears you out, and you’re really tired. And, of course, the hours are very long."
Looking like an ape for such long periods of time brought all sorts of unexpected reactions for the respected actor: "at first you couldn't walk down the street at Twentieth Century-Fox without somebody making a crack; it was like an obligation. Especially the men... but everyone felt obliged to make some sort of remark. While you’re suffering in this damn thing. I remember a guy stopping a car and he said, 'I gotta see this; I gotta see'. And here it was six or seven o’clock in the evening and I was just dragging back to the make-up room to remove my make-up. You get a little surly sometimes. But the kids are fascinated." "There were a couple of articles in the paper, pictures and so forth; and they said, here is a picture of Ron Harper being knocked off his horse by Urko. No name, just Urko. That bugged me, sure, something like that, where I'm Urko and not the actor. But that’s been rare, that sort of piece. I think that humans have a tendency to think of animals as animals, and refer to them as Rex or Prince or Urko, whatever they happen to be, because on several occasions they don't mention the Apes' names; it’s funny." "Most of the time after I take off my make-up, people don’t know me as Urko; they only know me from the other things that I’ve done. And they may say, I haven't seen you lately... I haven’t done anything outside of 'Planet of the Apes' since the end of June, when we started shooting, cause I haven’t had time to do any other shows." "I just had a director in 'The Horse Race' episode who had never met me, never seen me before; and, as Urko, I'd done several days of shooting and had a late call, so I went out to the Fox Ranch early and said hello to him. He got a funny look on his face, and I said, 'you don’t remember me, do you?' And he said, 'well, I've seen you somewhere; I’ve seen your face somewhere.' And I told him I was Urko. He turned crimson, blushed, and got embarrassed. I have worked with other gorillas and so forth on the show who were guests, and we’ve worked together without ever seeing each other’s faces. When they finally take off their make-up and clean up, you look over and there’s a stranger. It’s a very funny feeling." "I used to do all the riding, but I have a double now. We all do. And the things like falling off the horse, or falling through the roof, and all that, was done by Leo Jones."
Urko became the regular villain, appearing in all but three of the episodes filmed compared to just six shows featuring his colleague Zaius. Mark Lenard sensed that there was a lack of overall direction and production values for the series. "I think [Urko and Zaius] were intended to be kind of equal, originally.. it’s easier to decide what Urko has to do within the show. He’s obviously the antagonist and he really makes most of the plots go; he’s there as a threat. Zaius - other than the first episode, where he was with Galen - kind of works in conjunction with Urko, and I don’t think they have quite figured out yet just what they're going to do with him. I know he’s very good and they like him very much, but this is one of the things that happens. I did a series before; we had excellent roles all the way through. But the last four or five shows of the series we got a new story editor and there were about seven regular characters and he really didn't know what to do with them, and so I began getting smaller parts; they were not only smaller, they were just not me, you know - they just had no meaning, it was just sort of filling in. It’s all kind of complicated. Stories don’t come out of thin air, but the scripts that the writers bring in are just... they sometimes don't work, even with rewrites." "I do a lot of changing and a certain amount of improvising with the other actors and with the director; we don’t change the script itself too much, though we do change the scene... the people who are in the series, the regulars, are the ones who know the most about what the whole Ape culture is supposed to be like, what their characters have been like, and how to be consistent." "They’ve got a seven day shooting schedule, which is adequate for an ordinary series - I mean, for television - but for this show, it’s not enough; they should have, probably, eight days. And it depends on the director, his temperament, the organisation; the crew has a lot to do with it. They’re an excellent, excellent crew on this show, very fine technicians. Very experienced. In fact, Gerry Finnerman - who is the Director of Photography - was the cameraman on the first show that I did, 'Star Trek'... Sometimes you come up to the necessity of having just a certain amount of time and you do your best work. The things that suffer, of course, are things like production values, technical aspects; they might need more time."
At the time of his interview, the series had already been on the screens for some weeks, but was struggling to establish itself in the ratings, much to the surprise of everyone involved. The frustration and disappointment felt by the show's stars is palpable in the responses given by Lenard, who felt the show had not gotten the support it deserved. "I can’t figure it out either - the opening night of 'Planet of the Apes', we had a 32 or 33 share of the Neilsens - now the Neilsens might not reflect what is true, but that’s what the networks work with - yet it’s peculiar that, without seeing any of the shows that the initial kind of curiosity seekers or interested people should only be that many. And, you know, 'Sanford and Son' was in the upper forties. There’s something peculiar about it; either not enough people knew about it - which is possible - or it was on at the wrong time. Y’see, television viewers identify with the characters - they get to know the show and start to like the characters; that’s why the regulars are so important - more important, really, than anybody on the show; no guest star pulls people for a television series, unless it’s a very unusual kind of thing. It’s the regular actors... becoming acquainted with them and waiting every week to see them again, and the kind of shows they do." "[Fred] Silverman (Head of Network Programming for CBS-TV) is quoted as saying something like, 'we’re very pleased - excellent shows, well produced, well cast, etc., etc.; but I guess people don’t want to see monkeys unless they have their own zoo'. I don’t know if they’re misquoting him or if he’s trying to be funny, but we have heard that kind of attitude from [William] Paley (Chairman of the Board of CBS). He said, 'I won’t have any Ape shows on my network', or something... I don’t know what the hell that means; what is an 'Ape show'? It is, right now, a good entertainment show that has the potential to become even more."
He had some suggestions on how the quality of the weekly series could be improved. "In any series, things evolve. They start with a general premise, and then, depending on what comes up, ideas change. And one of the things that they've done that I don't like is the humans kind of beating up the gorillas, which is absurd. So, in that particular episode 'The Trap', I had something to do about it and I made sure that the relationship between the two as far as strength goes was maintained, that Urko was much stronger, that gorillas are much stronger than the human and the only way the human could overcome Urko was through guile, through trickery. And that's how he did it eventually, in the end." "My feeling has always been that the Apes are the interesting ones. When I saw the first movie, I liked that the humans were mute. I accepted the fact that in a series you've got to have more latitude - you're playing for younger kids and so you've got to tone some things down. I would like to see them investigate the Apes culture more, the Apes character, and abandon this whole idea of the astronauts saving the poor Apes with their technology and their... wiliness and more advanced scientific knowledge and what-not. The Apes do have a fear of humans and their science; that's been expressed, because of Mankind's violent nature, but it’s not really been too consistent. I don't mind a few shows like that. I think there’s room for lots of variety, like 'The Horse Race' episode, which was directed by a funny sort of western director; he brought humour into it, lots of fun and a kind of carnival atmosphere with horse racing. Urko goes around to all his prefects and fixes the race and it‘s sort of fun. But it’s done well - it's not quite as serious as some of them. It's a nice change of pace. And I think there’s room for lots of areas. I‘d like to see more of the mystery of being on a strange planet brought into it - the relationship between the humans and the Apes. And as I said, much more about the Ape culture, investigating what a planet would be, how animals like that have evolved in a very short time - what they would have taken from the humans and what they would bring from their own native beings into their own native society. I think it's fascinating. I don’t think it should get into the area of science - I notice in TV Guide or something, the show is billed as 'Science Fiction', which of course it is - but I don’t think it should get into the area of science fiction that 'Star Trek' did. I think it would all have to be based on what is probable, not just possible. But you can go into other areas, like the Forbidden Zone or strange isolated areas where things have not changed, or where they have, but in some peculiar way. I have a number of ideas that - if we’re still on - I'd like to work out myself." "I think it will depend on the series continuing; it will not be the same without the series. In the series 'Here Come the Brides' there was somebody on it - a singer, Bobby Sherman - who had been popular before and then faded, but because of the series he became tremendously popular again for quite a while. I know that he wasn’t making too much on the series, but it didn't make any difference; it was the thing that brought him that huge exposure, that made him a... star. I’m getting - not so much from Apes, though they’re talking about it, appearing in some sort of act or going to fairs, what-not - I do get requests y’know, from the 'Star Trek' shindigs, to appear."
"I think shows like 'The Trap' came closest to investigating the kind of thing I'd like to see in the show." "It had a good director, Arnold Lavan: I like him. He goes to get what’s in the story and he sometimes gets himself in trouble with the people because he takes a little longer, but he goes for the values. And I appreciate it, and I think in the end, that’s what makes the show. That episode, I think, had a combination of things; it had a certain amount of action, which they seem to like; it had a little bit of humour and suspense; and it had the tension of a dramatic show - plus it had a kind of revelation between the two. And I think, as far as Urko is concerned, it isn’t just that he wants to kill the astronauts - he wants to kill them because they’re a threat, they’re a danger to his whole culture, the whole Ape culture. And that’s why the apes'll never give up. They'll never stop searching for the astronauts, because it’s too important. It must be that important. And I was going to say, I have gotten letters and phone calls from around the area... surprisingly, you see, Urko is not a black-and-white villain, as he was intended to be; it’s very hard for kids to feel that way about an animal, plus he has a certain kind of justification for what he does. But, people have called and said that when they saw... Urko looking at that poster of that gorilla in a cage, when they saw the look on his face, they were on his side from then on. They understood. And that was interesting to me because I hadn't quite expected that. Somebody once asked me, how do you play the role? And I said that I look at it from the point of view of the character, that nobody does evil just for the sake of doing evil, or very few rational, sane people do; they do it because they need something, they want something, he’s rough and so forth, depending on what stories they come up with, but he believes he is right. Nobody does evil just for the sake of doing evil; they do it because they need something, they want something, they believe in something. Urko is the same."
The Planet of the Apes TV series didn't recover from its low ratings and was soon cancelled, the final episode being broadcast in December 1974. Lenard moved on to other acting assignments but continued to be a regular attraction at sci-fi conventions, and eventually reprised his role as Sarek in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). Mark Lenard sadly passed away from multiple myeloma in New York City in 1996 at the age of seventy-two.
- Planet of the Apes
- Mark Lenard article at Wikipedia
- Mark Lenard profile at the Internet Movie Database (IMDB)
- Mark Lenard profile at Memory Alpha
- Mark Lenard page at TV.com