Mark Harmon (born September 2, 1951) is an American actor. Since the mid 1970s, he has appeared in a variety of television, film and stage roles following a brief career as a collegiate football player with the UCLA Bruins. Since 2003, Harmon has starred as Leroy Jethro Gibbs in the hit CBS series NCIS.
Harmon was born Thomas Mark Harmon in Burbank, California. His father was University of Michigan football All-American and Heisman Trophy winner, Tom Harmon. His mother was actress and artist, Elyse Knox (née Elsie Lillian Kornbrath).
Harmon has two older sisters, actress and painter Kristin Nelson, the former wife of singer Ricky Nelson, and actress-model Kelly Harmon, who was once married to car magnate John DeLorean. After attending Los Angeles Pierce College as a student and quarterback, Harmon transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, and following in his father's athletic footsteps was the starting quarterback for the UCLA Bruins football team in 1972 and 1973.
In UCLA's 1972 season he engineered a stunning upset of the two-time defending national champion, Nebraska Cornhuskers. He received the National Football Foundation Award for All-Round Excellence in 1973. In his two years as quarterback in coach Pepper Rodgers' wishbone offense, UCLA won 17 games and lost only 5. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Communication cum laude in 1974.
Even though he considered "advertising or law" as careers after college, Harmon became an actor and has spent much of his career portraying law enforcement and medical personnel. Other than athletics/sports appearances, one of his first national TV appearances was with his father Tom Harmon, in a commercial for Kellogg's Product 19 cereal, for which the latter was the longtime TV spokesman. As an actor, his first credit came courtesy of his sister Kristen's in-laws, Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Nelson, in an episode of Ozzie's Girls. This was followed by guest-starring roles on episodes of Adam-12, Police Woman, and Emergency! in mid-1975 ("905-Wild" centered on two L.A. County Animal Control Officers and was a backdoor pilot episode for a series, but did not sell).
Producer/creator Jack Webb, who was the packager of both series, later cast Harmon in Sam, a short-lived 1977 series about an LAPD officer and his K-9 partner. Also in 1977, Harmon received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for his performance as Robert Dunlap in the TV movie Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years.
During the mid 1970s, Harmon made guest appearances on shows such as Laverne & Shirley and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries and had supporting roles in the feature films Comes a Horseman (1978) and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979). He then landed a co-starring role on the 1979 action series 240-Robert as Deputy Dwayne Thibideaux. The series centered around the missions of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Emergency Services Detail, but was also short-lived.
In 1980, Harmon gained a regular role in the primetime soap opera Flamingo Road, in which he played Fielding Carlisle, the husband of Morgan Fairchild's character. Despite initially good ratings, the series was canceled after two seasons. Following its cancellation, he landed the role of Dr. Robert Caldwell on the prestigious NBC Emmy-winning series St. Elsewhere in 1983. Harmon appeared in the show for almost three seasons before leaving in early 1986 when his character contracted HIV through unprotected heterosexual intercourse, one of the first instances where a major recurring television character contracted the virus (the character's subsequent off-screen death from AIDS would be mentioned two years later). In the mid 1980s, Harmon also became the spokesperson for Coors Regular beer, appearing in television commercials for them.
Harmon's career reached several other high points in 1986. In January, he was named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive. Following his departure from St. Elsewhere in February, he played the lead in the TV movies Prince of Bel Air and The Deliberate Stranger (in which he played serial killer Ted Bundy). With his career blossoming, he gained a role in the 1986 theatrical film Let's Get Harry and the lead role in the 1987 comedy Summer School (co-starring Kirstie Alley).
Returning briefly to episodic television in 1987, Harmon had a limited engagement on the series Moonlighting, playing Cybill Shepherd's love interest Sam Crawford for four episodes. He then starred in the 1987 TV movie After The Promise. In 1988, he co-starred with Sean Connery and Meg Ryan in the 1988 feature film The Presidio, and also opposite Jodie Foster in the film Stealing Home. Despite several high profile roles, Harmon's film career never gathered momentum and, after a muted reception to his 1989 comedy Worth Winning, he returned to television, appearing in various television movies.
Harmon's next regular television role would be as Chicago police detective Dickie Cobb for two seasons (1991–1993) on the NBC series Reasonable Doubts. In 1993, he appeared in one episode in the role of a rodeo clown on the CBS comedy/western series Harts of the West with future cast mate Sean Murray, who plays McGee on NCIS.
In 1995, Harmon starred in the ABC series Charlie Grace, in which he portrayed a private investigator. The series lasted only one season, after which he returned to ensemble medical shows on the series Chicago Hope, in which he played Dr. Jack McNeil from 1996-2000. He also portrayed astronaut Wally Schirra in one episode of the 1998 mini-series From the Earth to the Moon.
In May 2002, he portrayed Secret Service Special Agent Simon Donovan on The West Wing in a four-episode story arc. The role gained him his second Emmy Award nomination, exactly 25 years after his first nomination.
Harmon appeared in a guest starring role in two episodes of JAG in April 2003, which introduced the character of NCIS agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs; since 2003, Harmon has starred as Gibbs in the CBS drama NCIS. During his time on the show, he was reunited with three of his former Chicago Hope co-stars, Rocky Carroll, Lauren Holly, and Jayne Brook. Also in 2003, Harmon had a supporting role in the remake of the comedy film Freaky Friday.
Harmon also starred in several stage productions in Los Angeles and Toronto. At the Cast Theatre in Los Angeles he performed in Wrestlers and The Wager. In the late eighties he was part of the cast of the Canadian premier of Key Exchange. Several productions of Love Letters provided him the opportunity to play alongside wife Pam Dawber.
He worked as a carpenter before making a success of his acting career. On NCIS, his carpentry skills are alluded to through Gibbs' (his character) hobby of building boats in his basement.
Harmon has been married to actress Pam Dawber since March 21, 1987. The couple have two sons; Sean Thomas Harmon (born April 25, 1988, who played a young Gibbs in NCIS Season 6 Episode 4 and Episode 15, Season 7 Episode 16, Season 9 Episode 8 and 15), and Ty Christian Harmon (born June 25, 1992). Harmon was the brother-in-law of Ricky Nelson and is the uncle of actress Tracy Nelson and singers Matthew and Gunnar Nelson of the pop duo Nelson. Harmon dated singer Karen Carpenter in the 1970s.
In 1987, Harmon filed for custody of his nephew Sam based on grounds that his sister Kris was incapable of good parenting. Sam's psychiatrist testified the thirteen-year-old boy depicted his mother as a dragon, complained about her mood swings and how she prevented him from being with his siblings. Harmon later dropped the custody bid.
In 1996, Harmon saved two teenage boys involved in a car accident outside of his home. Harmon used a sledge hammer from his garage to break the window of their burning car, then pulled them free from the flames.