Thursday, June 6, 2024

Keeping up with Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon: PHOTO CREDIT  Angela George

Thomas Mark Harmon was born in Burbank, California on September 2, 1951, the youngest of three children.  His father was the celebrated football player and broadcaster Tom Harmon {1919-1990).  His mother was Elyse Knox (1917-2012), an actress, model and fashion designer.  Tom and Elyse married in August of a ceremony at St. Mary's student chapel at the University of Michigan.

Tom Harmon in 1938

Elyse Knox

Kristin Harmon (1945-2018), the eldest of  Mark's siblings, passed away from a heart attack at the age of 72.  Kristin, an artist, actress and author, married singer Ricky Nelson, of Ozzie and Harriet fame, in 1963.  She and Rick had four children - actress Tracy, musician twins Matthew and Gunnar Nelson and youngest sibling Sam Nelson, who started his own band, H is Orange.  Kristin and Rick Nelson divorced in 1982.  In 1988, Kristen married TV producer and director Mark Tinker.  After her divorce from Tinker in 2000, Kristen spent the remainder of her life as a painter in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Kristin in 1964

Kelly Harmon (born November 9, 1948), is the middle child.  She is an actress and model, known for her television commercials for TicTac mints.  In 1969, Kelly wed automotive executive John DeLorean (1925-2005).  The couple divorced in 1972, and Kelly married Bob Miller, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur in 1984.  She runs an interior design company in L.A,


Mark Harmon played college football for the University of California, Los Angeles.  He started as quarterback for the UCLA Bruins in 1972 and 1973.  In 1974, he graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Communications.  After college, Mark considered a career in medicine, advertising or law, but eventually turned to acting.  Prior to his acting career, he worked as a roofer, carpenter and shoe salesman.

One of Mark's first national television appearances was in a TV commercial for Kellogg's Product 19, along with his dad, Tom.  In the 1980s, Mark appeared in several commercials for Coors beer.

Mark Harmon made his television acting debut as Mark Johnson in a 1973 episode of Ozzie's Girls, the spin-off of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.  Ozzie and Harriet Nelson being the in-laws of his sister Kristin, the Nelson and Harmon families began to connect.  One day, Ozzie approached Mark on the beach and the two had a conversation.  "We'd sit underneath my tower and we'd talk about big band music, as Ozzie started as a band leader and Harriet was a vocalist," Mark told Parade magazine.  Then, one day, when Ozzie needed an actor on short notice for Ozzie's Girls, Mark was the one he asked to be a replacement.  "That changed my course," declared Mark.  The fledging actor had never been on a set before.  He appeared on the show dressed in a gorilla suit and he aid, "My name's Harry King Kong.  Which way to the Empire State Building?"

Mark's appearance on Ozzie's Girls was the first of several guest appearances he made on TV shows during the 1970s, including Emergency! (1975), Adam-12 (1975), Laverne & Shirley (1976), Police Woman (2 episodes (1975, 1976), Delvecchio (1976), Police Story (1976) and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (1977).

Mark Harmon earned an Emmy nomination for his performance in Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years, a 1977 sequel to the television film Eleanor and Franklin (1976).  In the sequel, Mark played Robert Dunlap, a soldier.
In 1980, Mark was cast in a regular role as on Flamingo Road.  He played Fielding Carlisle, the husband of Morgan Fairchild's character, on the prime time soap.  However, the series was cancelled after two seasons.

From 1983 to 1986, Mark portrayed Dr. Robert Caldwell in the medical drama St. Elsewhere. He played the suave Dr. Caldwell in 64 episodes of the series.  Mark left the show because his character contracted HIV..  Since HIV was big news then, the storyline was both timely and controversial.  Caldwell's offscreen death from AIDS was mentioned onscreen two years later.

Mark on St. Elsewhere

Mark gave a chilling performance as serial killer Ted Bundy in The Deliberate Stranger, a two-part television movie that originally aired on NBC on May 4 and 5, 1986.  He also appeared as Sam Crawford in four 1987 episodes of Moonlighting, starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willisa.

From 1991 to 1993, Mark played Chicago police detective Dickie Cobb on the NBC series Reasonable Doubts.  In 1996, Mark portrayed a private investigator in a short-lived ABC series called Charlie Grace.  Only nine episodes were produced.

From 1996 to 2000, Mark appeared in Chicago Hope, another medical drama.  He played Dr. Jack McNeil in 95 episodes of the series.

In May of 2002, Mark played Secret Service special agent Simon Donovan in a four-episode story arc of The West Wing.  He won an Emmy nomination for that role.  Donald P Bellisario, the creator of JAG and NCIS was impressed with Mark's work on The West Wing and had him appear in two episodes of JAG in April of 2003, in which the character of Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs was introduced to TV audiences.  

On September 23, 2003, the NCIS television series premiered on CBS.  The series focuses on an American  military police procedural, It revolves around a fictional team of special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, a concept introduced in the April episodes of JAG.

At the time, Mark was not enthusiastic about joining NCIS.  He also opposed the idea of changing the name of his character.  "I read "Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and thought, "Wow, I like that name.  Then for a brief second, when I decided that I liked the idea of the project, the name changed . . .Bob Johnson or something like that.  I went,  "No, no, it's gotta be Leroy Jtthro Gibbs."  When Donald P. Bellisario said "No, you can't play a guy named Leroy Jethro Gibs, Mark replied "Why not?"  The name was changed back to Gibbs and Mark was pleased.

Mark has been married to actress Pam Dawber of Mork and Mindy and My Sister Sam fame since March 21, 1987 - over 37 years-- a rarity in Hollywood.  Of their show business marriage, Mark told Closer Weekly in 2019, "Pam and I have both made a living in this business, and still, there's a part of that that's just not natural."  Pam added, "I don't think two people can work all the time in show business and stay married."

Pam and Mark have two children - Sean Christian Harmon (born April 25, 1988) and Ty Harmon (born June 25, 1992).  Sean is an actor, while Ty is working as a screenwriter.

Mark and Pam

In October 2021, much to the chagrin of his fans, Mark lefts his role as Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, after playing the character for 19 years.  Gibbs' farewell occurred in the fourth episode of season 19 when he decided to remain in Alaska indefinitely after solving a case.  

In 2023, Mark's book, Ghosts of Honolulu: A Japanese Spy Hunter and the Untold Story of Pearl Harbor, was published.. The book was co-authored by Leon Carroll, Jr., a retired NCIS agent.  It is a historical account of a U.S. counterintelligence officer working to safeguard Pearl Harbor, and a Japanese spy sent to Hawaii to obtain information on the American fleet.  Mark also relates the audio version of the book.

When Mark appeared on Entertainment Tonight to promote his book host Kevin Frazier asked him directly about whether his Gibbs character would be seen on screen again.  Mark replied, "You probably know more than I do, Kevin.  They left him (Gibbs) in a stream fishing, and that made sense to me - Is he going to get out of the stream.  I don's know.  But if he is, I don't know about it." 
Never say never, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for Mark Harmon to return to his role on NCIS.  In February of 2023, however, The Hollywood Reporter broke the story that Mark had signed for future projects with the Gersh Agency, a prominent literary and talent agency.  This was the actor's first major career move since leaving NCIS.  It could mean that Mark will be back on our screens soon.


* Sean Harmon portrayed a younger version of his father's character, Gibbs, on NCIS.

* In 1987, Mark and Pam sued Mark's sister, Kristin Harmon, for custody of her and Rick Nelson's youngest son, Sam, claiming that Kristen was an unfit parent due to her drug addiction (Mark and Pam later dropped the custody bid for their nephew, and Kristin entered rehab.

* In 1996, Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber rescued a teenage boy involved in a car accident outside their Brentwood home.  The boy was trapped in a burning vehicle.  Mark used a sledgehammer to beak the window of the car and help him escape.  Pam, meanwhile, called emergency services.

* Mark Harmon is an avid woodworker.  In 2006, he told Sunset abut how he learned carpentry from his father, and enjoyed working with his hands.  "I used to hang out in my dad's workshop on weekends , , , Later when I was starting out as an actor, I became a roofer and framer to make money."  Mark incorporates his woodworking hobby into renovation projects for his home.  

* Going into NCIS's ninth season, Mark was promoted to executive producer of the show.  In the the 11th season of the show, Mark worked  with writer and producer Gary Glasberg on a  two-episode special that reunited Gibbs with an old colleague working on a case in New Orleans.  Those episodes became the pilot for NCIS: New Orleans.  Mark served as executive producer of the spin-off.

Mark's big screen credits include Summer School (1987), The Presido (1988). Freaky Friday (2003), Chasing Liberty (2004).

* On October 1, 2012, Mark received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

SOURCES Good Housekeeping; "'NCIS' Fans, Mark Harmon Spoke Out About the Possibility of Returning to the Show," by Adrianna Freedman, December 3, 2023;  Nicki Swift (, "How Mark Harmon Really Got His First Acting Job,", by Natalie Morris, February 3, 2023; The Hollywood Reporter, "Mark Harmon Signs With Gersh (Exclusive)," by Etan Vlessing, February 7, 2023; Page Six (Fox News), "Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber know how rare their Hollywood marriage is," by Stephanie Nolasco, March 29, 2019; Wikipedia; Internet Movie Database (IMDb)

- Joanne

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