Mark Harmon’s Switch From Football To Acting, Best Known Works and The Secret of His Long Marriage

For over two decades, Mark Harmon has endeared himself to TV viewers around the globe with his portrayal of the tough but compassionate special agent Leroy Gibbs on NCIS which has grown to become one of the longest-running TV series in the United States.

Such admirable longevity means that Harmon has become so synonymous with the series that it is not easy to distinguish the two. The fact, however, remains that there is more to the actor than NCIS. The veteran Hollywood star has other interesting aspects to him including the fact that he once aspired to become a professional NFL player before eventually headed into Hollywood.

Mark Harmon’s Days as a College Football Star

Thomas Mark Harmon was born on the 2nd of September 1951 in California, specifically the town of Burbank. His dad Tom was a former college football player, who even won the prestigious Heisman Trophy, and as such, his son unsurprisingly dabbled into football. He starred as a running back, safety, and quarterback during his four years at Harvard-Westlake School and upon graduating, headed to Pierce College.

Mark spent two years at Pierce, a time during which he led his school to the best season record of 7-2 in 1971. He received all-Metropolitan Conference team and JC All-American honors but most importantly, he also received scholarship offers from top football programs such as Oklahoma and UCLA. He then picked the latter as they not only boasted of good football but also great academic programs.

In his two years at UCLA (1972–1973), Mark Harmon’s performances proved that he was destined for the top. He led his school to 17 victories in 22 matches, including a memorable upset against the two-time national champion, Nebraska. Despite all these achievements, Mark realized early on that he was just an average player, who worked hard, and was not that talented. He, therefore, saw that he might not make much impact as a pro and decided to quit while the ovation was loudest. He would later be inducted into Pierce College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.

Mark Harmon
Harmon during his college days Image Source

Playing the Handsome Doctor on St. Elsewhere

Having concluded that football would not be a viable option in the long-term, Mark Harmon agonized over what to do with his life. He dabbled into business and carpentry. He also thought of studying to become a lawyer or an orthopedic surgeon. All this confusion was, however, resolved when his sister’s in-laws, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, both accomplished filmmakers, gave him a part in their sitcom, Ozzie’s Girls, in the year 1973.

For the next four years, Harmon got minor roles in several TV series. This was until 1977 when he landed the role of Robert, a disabled veteran, on the TV film – Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years. The role not only brought him to the limelight but also earned him an Emmy nomination for the best supporting actor.

Mark Harmon got his second breakthrough in his career on the TV series, St. Elsewhere, an NBC medical drama about interns and teaching doctors at a rundown hospital in Boston. In the series, Harmon played the role of Dr. Robert Caldwell, a handsome doctor who later died of AIDS. He appeared on the show for three years, 1983 to 1986, and his performance conferred on him Hollywood stardom. This status was further solidified when People Magazine named him the sexiest man alive in 1986.

Harmon’s Enduring Legacy on NCIS

Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon on the set of NCIS Image Source

Since his day as the handsome doc on St. Elsewhere, Mark Harmon has gone on to land roles on several movies and TV series. His most notable work, however, remains the long-running naval procedural, NCIS.

Before landing that iconic role in 2003, Harmon had portrayed a secret service agent on the NBC political drama, The West Wing, in 2002. His character was limited to just four episodes but he gave such an unforgettable performance that he scored an Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actor in a drama series. Most importantly, it also captured the attention of NCIS creator, Donald Paul Bellisario, and by 2003, Harmon began portraying Agent Leroy Gibbs on NCIS.

The Burbank native has remained at that role to date and has continued to feature on the show which is now one of the longest-running TV series in America. It is also one of the most-watched ones, attracting about tens of millions of viewers each week, and was voted America’s favorite TV show in 2011. Harmon’s work on NCIS has not gone unrewarded. It has fetched him about six People Choice award nominations out of which he has won one, the award for favorite crime drama TV actor in 2017. It also led to him being named America’s favorite TV personality in the year 2011, beating out the likes of Oprah and Conan O’Brien.

He Has Ranked Among the Highest-Paid Actors

NCIS has also brought Mark Harmon many financial rewards. At the height of the show’s fame in the early 2010s, he was among the highest-paid TV actors in America. He retains that role to date and makes as much as $19-$20 million each year from the show. A breakdown of this figure shows that Harmon earns about $525,000 per episode of the show which translates into $12.6 million across 24 episodes each season.

The remainder of his money then comes from his cut of the show’s profit as he has been one of the producers of the show since 2008.

Mark Harmon’s Marriage Has Stood the Test of Time

Mark Harmon
Mark and Pam Image Source

The NCIS star is happily married to actress, singer, and producer, Pam Dawber. A native of Detroit, Michigan, Pam has appeared in several Broadway productions and TV series. She is, however, most famous for her leading role as Mindy in the ABC sitcom, Mork and Mindy, which ran from 1978 to 1982 and is about a human lady who befriends an extraterrestrial being named Mork (portrayed by Robin Williams).

Mark Harmon and Dawber commenced their relationship in the 80s and tied the knot in a private ceremony in March 1987. They have remained together ever since then and have two sons; Sean Thomas and Ty Christian. The couple share one of the most enduring marriages in Hollywood, having been together for more than thirty years. Harmon has revealed that the reason for the longevity is maturity. According to the actor, he and his wife got married in their 30s, an age when they had dispensed with youthful exuberance and matured fully.

Another reason that may be adduced for the longevity of the couple’s union is their super-private nature. They shield their family affairs from the spotlight and have never been ones to parade their children or personal lives for public consumption. Finally, for a relationship to work, the persons involved must be willing to make sacrifices and this applies in the case of Harmon and his wife. For instance, Dawber was willing to scale back her burgeoning career in order to be a hands-on mom to her kids. All these have paid off as she has two successful and thriving young men as children.

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