‘NCIS’ Star Mark Harmon’s Appearance on a Classic Sitcom Earned Him His Big Break

by Madison Miller

We may know him best as the legendary Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but Mark Harmon has been in the entertainment world far before taking on his role in “NCIS.”

It makes sense he’s most recognized for his “NCIS” role, seeing as he spent nearly two decades on the show. Although he is now off the screen and not portraying Gibbs, Harmon is still working as an executive producer.

He truly made it big in the entertainment world. A role like “NCIS” can really be groundbreaking, but what role got him off the ground, to begin with?

Some Earlier Appearances from Mark Harmon

Mark Harmon had dozens of guest appearances earlier on in his career. These recurring or guest appearances would eventually get him noticed in a really big way.

His first gig in the acting world is thanks to his brother-in-law, famous pop singer Ricky Nelson. He starred in a 1950s sitcom alongside his parents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, called “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”

In an interview with Parade from 2019, Harmon once talked about exactly what this role did for him. He was asked by Ozzie to replace an actor who couldn’t make it. It was actually on an episode of “Ozzie’s Girls.” He quickly agreed and shadowed Nelson all around the set and instantly knew that this was a future he could see for himself.

“That changed my course,” Mark Harmon said.

This classic sitcom ended up throwing gasoline on the spark of interest Harmon had regarding the entertainment world. From there, he started booking a number of roles. He appeared in “Police Woman,” “The Hardy Boys,” “Laverne & Shirley,” and “Emergency!”

Some of the “NCIS” star’s recurring roles included playing Captain John McIntosh in “Centennial,” portraying Officer Mike Breen in “Sam,” and also being Deputy Dwayne Thibideaux in “240-Robert.” He surely stayed busy throughout the 1970s. He stayed patient and, eventually, his big break came when he landed a role as Dr. Robert Caldwell in “St. Elsewhere.”

Harmon’s Early Football Career

For Mark Harmon, acting wasn’t necessarily his plan in life.

Before the “NCIS” star got into acting, he was a pretty exceptional football player. His father was Tom Harmon. He was a football player who would then become an actor. His mother, Elyse Knox, was just an actor.

Mark Harmon grew up playing football and would eventually get an offer from the University of California, Los Angeles. He was a quarterback for the Bruins in 1972 and 1973. Although he gave up football for professional acting, others still recognize his efforts on the field. He was awarded the National Football Foundation Gold Medal in 2019.

“His success on the gridiron as a student-athlete and his subsequent icon status in film and television make him exceptionally well-qualified as our 2019 Gold Medal recipient,” the NFF Awards Committee Chairman Jack Ford said.