Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Trading Card Close-up # 5: "Mark Lenard as Urko"

My fifth trading card "close up" is # 59 in the Planet of the Apes TV series collection from 1974. There are sixty-six cards in this set, and this one serves as number six in puzzle # 1. Got that?

Anyway, I picked this particular card, featuring series villain General Urko, not just because I love the gorilla's hat (!), but because - as the legend reads - the great Mark Lenard essayed this role. I've always felt that Lenard is a true shining star of sci-fi actors. He passed away in 1996, but Lenard is one of the few actors in history to have played (in a featured, not extra capacity...) a Vulcan, Romulan and Klingon on Star Trek.

And that's just one achievement. In addition to his role as Sarek - Spock's father - on various Star Trek generations ("Journey to Babel," "Yesteryear," "The Search for Spock," "The Voyage Home," "The Undiscovered Country," "Sarek," and "Unification"), he made a (brilliant...) career of playing aliens or non-humans on other classic TV shows.

Planet of the Apes is probably his most memorable role, because he was so effective as the brutal simian General, yet Lenard also played an alien ambassador with a removable head (!) on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century ("Journey to Oasis"), the evil Emperor Thorval in the Cliffhangers (1979) segment "The Secret Empire" and a military overlord in an episode ("Zone Troopers Build Men") of Otherworld (1985).

Lenard guested on shows as diverse as Mission: Impossible, The Magician and The Incredible Hulk, and even had a role in the Woody Allen film Annie Hall. Now that, my friends...is a great actor.

So today, gazing upon the ape features of the evil General Urko, let's also remember the performer beneath the appliance and yak hair. Let's hear it for Mark Lenard. Just imagine if he were still around. It would have been amazing to see him on Stargate or Firefly or Farscape...

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:09 AM

    Hey John,

    Count me in for the Mark Lenard love fest. The man was a joy to watch in just about any role. He even managed to bring grace and dignity to his performance in “Journey to Oasis”. How many actors could have pulled that off, considering the inherent ridiculousness of the character? And, of course, Sarek is simply one of the best recurring guest characters in sci-fi history.

    On a related note, I’ve often thought that it’s a damn shame that Julian Glover isn’t held in higher regard as one of the great sci-fi guest stars. He had more-than-memorable roles in Doctor Who (“The Crusades” and “City of Death”), Space: 1999 (“Alpha Child”) and, of course, The Empire Strikes Back. It’s just a shame he never did Star Trek. If he had, I believe his geek icon status would have been assured.

    -Tony Mercer

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  2. Hey Tony!

    Yep. Mark Leonard played the role of Ambassador Duvoe on Buck Rogers (the guy who could remove his own head...) with such supreme authority and confidence that viewers could actually believe in that wacky notion. You mentioned his grace and dignity, and you're right on.

    I love Julian Glover! He's also racked up roles as a Bond baddie ("For Your Eyes Only") and a nemesis of Indiana Jones ("The Last Crusade"), so he does have quite the cv. Like you, I'd love to see him on Trek in some capacity (preferably villainous!)

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  3. The Lenard appearance that freaked me out was his turning up in the Hawaii 50 ep "To Hell With Babe Ruth" in a ninja outfit with throwing stars- in 1969. He's always been cool, but he was a ninja before ninjas were cool (before Frank Miller).

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  4. Mark Lenard was not only a first-rate actor (just listen to his "interview" with Gene Roddenberry on "Inside Star Trek." Lenard, in character as Sarek, is asked "We've seen Spock reject a Vulcan marriage. Is marriage to a human female possible. Sarek pauses, then says, quietly, "It was for me." The pause speaks volumes), but also a friendly, decent person and a fascinating conversationalist. He was the first actor to come up to the studio to do an interview for "Destinies" in 1985. And he was gracious with his time when I did an on-location interview with him at a Creation Convention in NYC in 1988. He told me that he enjoyed playing the symbiotic ambassador in "Buck Rogers" and the character was, at one point, considered for a recurring role. He also mentioned how he had tried out (and was rejected, because he looked too much like Richard Benjamin) for the part of the plant-man, Ficus, in the short-lived SF comedy "Quark." I actually did a memorial show for him in 1996 when he died. If anyone is interested in a copy of it, please contact me at Destinies@wusb.fm

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