Actor Mark Harmon has been a fixture on television for over 50 years. Most known for his role as special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on “NCIS,” who he played for 18 full seasons of the show, Mark has also appeared on a host of other well-loved TV shows. These include “The West Wing,” “St. Elsewhere” and “JAG,” where his “NCIS” character was originally introduced.
In fact, Mark has showbiz in his genes. The son of football star Tom Harmon and actress Elyse Knox, Mark also has two sisters, Kristin Nelson (née Harmon) and Kelly Harmon. Both of his sisters also made their careers in the entertainment industry — Kelly is a model and actress, while Kristin was an actress and painter.
What’s more, Mark’s wife of 36 years, Pam Dawber is also an actress. Her most remembered role was as Mindy when she starred opposite Robin Williams in the acclaimed series “Mork & Mindy.” Other notable roles of hers include the television show “My Sister Sam,” as well as various other film and TV roles. In fact, in 2021, Dawber finally made an appearance on “NCIS” alongside her husband, where she played an investigative journalist.
Off-screen, the couple got married on March 21, 1987, which means they’ve been married for 36 years now. Together, they share two sons, Sean Thomas Harmon and Ty Christian Harmon. Acting must really run in their family’s genes since Sean is also in the family business. Both of their sons are now all grown up and just as handsome as their father. Let’s take a look at the Harmon family’s lives.
Mark was born on Sep. 2, 1951, in Burbank, California. Before he became the famous actor that he is today he actually followed in his father’s footsteps and played college football. In 1972 and 1973 he played as a quarterback for the UCLA Bruins. However, he stopped playing football at that level after he graduated in 1974 with a degree in communications.
After he left college, Mark began a career as a merchandising director but he decided to give acting a go, as he switched to following in his mother’s footsteps. Since his sister Kristin was married to the Nelson family — of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” fame — Mark was lucky to land his first job on the show “Ozzie’s Girls.”
By the mid-’80s, Mark had made an impression in Hollywood thanks to his time on “St. Elsewhere” and was named People’s Sexiest Man Alive. He continued to have a solid career as a character actor but little did he know he would land his biggest role after he was over the age of 50. In April 2003, Mark played the role of Leroy Jethro Gibbs for the first time on “JAG,” during a two-episode character arc. Soon after “NCIS” started with Gibbs as a core character and the rest as they say is history.
After nearly 20 years in the role, Mark left “NCIS” in its 19th season. Never did he think the show or his character would be so loved by people from around the world. He told TV Insider he couldn’t get his mind around how wide-reaching the show is when he said, “the international reach is staggering.” He added:
“It’s hard to walk through airports even in the most out-of-the-way places without being surrounded by people who love the show — and that’s nothing to complain about. I’ve done TV shows where I walk through airports apologizing.”
Meanwhile, Dawber is also no stranger to the spotlight. After she was born on Oct. 18, 1951, and raised in Detroit, Michigan, she had intentions of going to university. However, she ended up moving to New York City to pursue a career in modeling instead. Soon enough, she switched her focus to acting and appeared in a number of television commercials in the ’70s. This was a stepping stone to her eventual career as an actress.
In the late-’70s Dawber screen-tested for a role on the “Bewitched” spin-off “Tabitha” and while she didn’t get it, the studio executives were impressed enough to put her in their so-called talent development program. Then in 1978, she got her big break after she was cast opposite Robin Williams in “Mork & Mindy.” The show became a huge success and put them both on the map over the course of its four seasons. But in an interview with ABC in 2020, Dawber spoke about how she had to be convinced of it initially. But she added that Williams’ talent cemented the deal for her. She said:
“It was clear. He was so adorable, he so funny. And he just had it. And that was it. It was just like, “Where do I sign?’”
After the show ended, Dawber was on another popular show titled “My Sister Sam.” She also appeared in theater productions, including the opera “The Pirates of Penzance,” as well as movies. But despite having a successful acting career, Dawber decided to slow down her work when she started a family.
It was soon after “Mork & Mindy” ended in 1982 that Dawber first met Mark after they were introduced by a mutual friend. Something clearly sparked between them and just a few years later they were married in 1987, which also happened to coincide with the time Mark was named People’s Sexiest Man Alive. They had an intimate ceremony at a chapel at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, Los Angeles.
One interesting fact about their wedding is Mark’s wedding ring. Just a few years ago, Mark opened up to People about the distinctive ring, which he said he believed was his grandfather’s “because it was in a box of things that my dad left.” He added:
“I wear it or a few others I have because when I’m not shooting, I like to make sure I have something on my ring finger, because I’m proud to be married, and I’m proud of who I’m married to … I’m just so proud of her.”
Now that’s a husband anyone would want to marry! In the same interview, Mark explained why he thought their union has worked and it has to do with maturity. He said:
“We were both in our thirties when we got married, so hopefully the stupid stuff we did earlier … That’s probably the closest I have to what the key is.”
However, he did reveal that the two are quite different from each other, perhaps proving that opposites really do attract, at least in their case. They have different tastes and that’s even extended to their acting roles. One notable role which Mark wanted to do, Dawber told him not to. He added:
“We don’t generally like the same thing, and that’s been healthy for us, actually.”
On the topic of marriage, Mark opened up to Larry King in a 2014 interview where he said he didn’t have a special philosophy about choosing a life partner but that “you hope to be smart enough to choose right” when it comes to the person you’re marrying. He added:
“I had to kiss a lot of frogs to get there. My point being – and I’m not throwing dirt on any of that – you learn, you grow, you change.”
Their eldest son Sean was born in April 1988, while their youngest son Ty is four years younger, having been born in June 1992. Unlike other Hollywood families, Dawber and Mark have chosen not to bring their sons into the spotlight, as they rarely attend premieres with them. They also don’t often talk about their kids in interviews. Dawber did open up about the topic of privacy in an interview with People back in 1987. She said:
“We’re not trying to keep something secret, but if you don’t want it totally exploited by the press, you have to.”
Decades later, Mark added more insight on the topic when he told TV Insider in 2017:
“It’s not even a choice. It’s who we are. We stay home. A lot. I’m not a Twitter guy or a Facebook guy. Our sons aren’t into that either. Pam and I have both made a living in this business, and still, there’s a part of that, that’s just not natural.”
The couple was content with their marriage and the two sons they were raising, and both eventually became factors in why Dawber decided to slow down her acting career. Despite being a successful actress throughout the ’80s and ’90s, her last long-running role was in 1998 on the television series “101 Dalmations: The Series.” Finally, in 2016, she opened up to Entertainment Tonight about why she chose family over fame. She said:
“I was in a number one show. I had my own deal. I got to do Broadway. I got to do musical theater. I got to do cartoon voices … I did everything you can do in this business, and then I had children and it’s like, ‘I’m not going to chase this fame thing.’”
Dawber also spoke about wanting to be there for the little things in her kids’ lives:
“I wanted to drive my kids to school … to be there for their birthdays and bring cupcakes and donuts and do the school festivals and all that, and I did.”
She also revealed that she “got to teach in their art class” and “it was a different life” but she was “very happy to do it.” She added that her sons hadn’t seen her acting work and said, “I’m just their mom … their father is already iconic enough for two boys.”
It seems her choice to slow down her career wasn’t only for her children but also for her relationship with Mark. Dawber said in the same interview:
“I don’t think two people can work all the time in show business and stay married.”
But it wasn’t just Dawber who felt that acting took her away from being with her family — Mark had similar concerns. In an interview with Parade in 2019, he recalled juggling both acting and directing in the ’80s and ’90s. He said:
“I was directing a lot, I was doing a movie here or there and we had this young family that was growing up, and I was missing a lot of (family time).”
He added that “just was not OK.” When asked by TV Insider if there was a moment that his fame and success wasn’t worth it, he said:
“I was in the jungles of New Guinea making a not-very-good movie when my firstborn child took his first steps. No job is worth missing life’s important moments.”
Mark also chose to scale back his work a little bit but it happened to coincide with when he landed the role of Gibbs, which kept him firmly in one location, Los Angeles, and close to his family. Then, in a full-circle moment, Dawber finally starred alongside her husband on “NCIS” in 2021. She spoke to Entertainment Weekly about working with Mark:
“My husband is so supportive of me. He’s just a giving, great guy. He just gives me attagirls, you know? It’s fun because Gibbs grunts out a lot of lines. He doesn’t give a lot. So they go toe-to-toe.”
She spoke further about the tension between Gibbs and her character Marcie Warren, an investigative journalist:
“He frustrates the hell out of Marcie. So they’ve got this oddball relationship where they’re checking each other out. She doesn’t understand whether is he a truth-teller. Is this guy for real? And he’s thinking sort of the same thing about her.”
Nowadays, the couple’s sons, Sean, 33, and Ty, 29, are all grown up and the family’s dynamic has changed somewhat, so they’ve slowly opened up their lives a little more. As Sean is an actor, audiences may already be familiar with him since he’s actually starred as the younger version of his father in “NCIS,” as well as a small role in “CSI: NY”. Talk about a family resemblance! Mark actually spoke about how proud he was of his son in a 2020 interview with Entertainment Tonight. He said:
“I always think back to the first time they talked about doing a young ‘Gibbs’ thing here, and Sean was just out of school at that point. A director named Tony Wharmby said, ‘Can he come in and read?’”
“On his own he did and I’m proud of him taking his work seriously and how he approaches being an actor.”
Sean has also had roles in a few other movies and short films, but just like his parents, he prefers to keep his personal life private. However, he did let fans in on some very exciting news when he shared on his Instagram that he and his girlfriend were engaged!
Ty, however, is the most private of the family. That’s even echoed in his career choice — rather than act and be in front of the camera, he’s chosen to work as a screenwriter behind the scenes. He’s most known for writing the movie “Catholic Schoolgirl Chainsaw Showdown,” which Sean actually directed.
But whether they’re in the spotlight or not, Mark couldn’t be prouder of his sons. He said in the same interview with ET:
“I’m proud of both our boys, and they work hard at what they do and I’m proud that they get up in the morning and try to do that every day.”
Did you know the reason Pam Dawber gave up her career in Hollywood? What about her and Mark Harmon’s sons, did you know they were also in the family business? Let us know, then pass this on to anyone who might be interested to read about it!