About Thomas Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon’s breakout role in the NBC television series “St. Elsewhere” launched the actor as a major eighties heartthrob, leaving him to enjoy decades of solid roles in crime and medical dramas before aging handsomely and authoritatively into his current role as military investigator Leroy Jethro Gibbs on the CBS sleeper hit “NCIS.”
Los Angeles native Thomas Mark Harmon, know professionally as Mark Harmon, was born to Elyse Knox, a 1940s film actress, and Tom Harmon, a college football All-American and Heisman Trophy winner with a long career as a sports announcer on TV and radio. He seemed headed in the same direction, landing a spot as starting quarterback on the UCLA Bruins in 1973 and 1974. During his senior year at college Harmon, who was working towards a degree in communications, became friends with TV legend Ozzie Nelson through his older sister Kristen – who would marry Nelson’s pop star son Ricky and gave birth to later 1980s recording star twins “Nelson.” Ozzie gave Harmon, who had never considered acting, a walk-on role on “Ozzie’s Girls,” which prompted the undergrad to start taking acting lessons.
He continued dramatic training after college graduation, when a series of jobs in advertising and as a representative for Adidas sneakers were not providing nearly the satisfying experience required by a former college sports star. While returning home from a sneaker-related business trip one night at the age of 24, Harmon decided he had had enough of the business world and wanted to instead pursue acting as a profession.
Young and athletic with his pretty-boy looks, Harmon experienced considerable casting luck right out of the gate; even more after “Adam 12” star Jack Webb suggested that he cut his long hair and shave off his moustache. He managed to supplement his job as a roofer with several TV guest spots a year on shows like “Emergency” and “Laverne & Shirley” before his single scene as a one-legged veteran speaking with the First Lady in the 1977 ABC TV-movie "Eleanor and Franklin” earned him an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Harmon continued with guest TV spots until 1979 when he was cast as a lead on the short-lived cop show “240-Robert.” A role as Morgan Fairchild’s suitably handsome and charming husband on the prime time soap “Flamingo Road” proved to be a much more substantial career vehicle for Harmon, leading to a run of TV films and his eventual casting as heartthrob plastic surgeon Dr. Bobby Caldwell on the hospital hit, “St. Elsewhere.”
The womanizing Caldwell was a perfect fit for Harmon’s good looks and easygoing manner. He suddenly found himself on the cover of teen magazines alongside Tom Selleck and Don Johnson as one of the era’s top sex symbols. But it was not just all beefcake in scrubs – the actor was called upon to deliver some serious dramatic chops in 1986 when his character was diagnosed with AIDS. It was one of the first times a television drama acknowledged this new, largely misunderstood disease; certainly one of the first to associate it with a heterosexual character. His character was subsequently written out at the end of his third season.
After Harmon was dubbed by People magazine as "The Sexiest Man Alive" in 1986, he risked his status even further when he decided to portray serial killer Ted Bundy in "The Deliberate Stranger." It was an intense turnaround for an actor who had generally been seen as a nice guy, and the intensity of Harmon’s performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination. The actor enjoyed a 17-week run onstage in the critically-acclaimed “Wrestlers” – opposite unknown actor and future TV doctor himself, George Clooney – before easing back into weekly television in 1987 with a recurring role as Bruce Willis’ rival for Cybill Shepard’s affections in “Moonlighting.” It was the role of Sam the astronaut that for the first time angered fans, as his picture-perfect dream man seemed to pose a real threat to the longtime longed-for hook-up between Shepherd and Willis on the beloved show.
On the big screen, he landed a starring role as a laid-back coach turned remedial English teacher in Carl Reiner’s “Summer School.” Harmon had a few more film successes around the same time, including a pairing with Sean Connery in the modestly successful thriller "The Presidio" and one of his best dramatic performances in the little-seen drama "Stealing Home" opposite Jodie Foster.
He quietly returned to the realm of forgettable TV movies, with the exception of his starring turn as the notorious bank robber "Dillinger." In 1991, he was back on the prime time schedule with a two-year run on the police investigation drama "Reasonable Doubts." He snared minor roles in the feature Western "Wyatt Earp" and the Oliver Stone’s disturbing "Natural Born Killers," but again television seemed to be the medium where he stood out as lead player.
After doing time on the short-lived cop show "Charlie Grace," Harmon received an offer to return the medical setting that had launched his career, so he joined the cast of "Chicago Hope." Harmon’s four-year run as orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jack McNeil in David E. Kelley’s Emmy Award-winning series established the actor as a dependable prime time mainstay, easily digestible by audiences as a detective, a doctor, or TV film villain.
“Chicago Hope” was cancelled in 2000, leaving Harmon to appear in the Tom Selleck Western “Crossfire Trail” before breaking a long absence from big screen comedy with supporting roles in “Freaky Friday” and “Chasing Liberty.” Harmon’s versatility apparently broadening with age, his authoritative, suit-and-tie capabilities were tapped for a guest-starring role on “The West Wing” which earned him an Emmy nomination for the stint – his controlled, tough-as-nails character helping open up new possibilities for the handsomely aging actor.
The biggest of those possibilities began as a two-part special episode of the CBS drama “Jag” and evolved into a full-fledged spin-off series about the real life Naval Criminal Investigative Service, “NCIS.” With the series, Harmon had the chance to carry a very different kind of show than his earlier efforts, and to do so with a much more complex, realized character — Supervisory Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, a former marine sniper and interrogation expert. The show was unexpectedly popular, thanks in part to its role as a “husband” programming alternative to “American Idol” which shared the same time slot during the summer months.
Harmon has been married to actress Pam Dawber since March 21, 1987. The couple has two sons: Sean Thomas Harmon (born 25 April 1988), who played a young Gibbs in NCIS Season 6 Episode 4 and Episode 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 tried to gain 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, and complained about her mood swings and how she prevented him from being with his siblings. Harmon dropped his custody bid when Kris's lawyer insinuated witnesses could be produced who had snorted cocaine with Harmon's wife.
In 1996, Harmon saved two teenage boys who were involved in a car accident outside of his home. Harmon used a sledge hammer from his garage to break the window out of their burning car, then pulled them free from the flames.