‘NCIS’: How Star Mark Harmon Realized His Parents Were Famous

by Suzanne Halliburton

Mark Harmon grew up in a famous family. His father was a handsome football hero. His mother was a beautiful actress. Yet, the long-time star of NCIS had no idea his parents were different than those of his friends.

Maybe it’s because Harmon was raised in California. His dad, Tom Harmon, played for the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan fans always have been loud and obsessive with their college football stars. The elder Harmon was the toast of college football right before World War II. He played halfback, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1940. Mark Harmon was a toddler when his dad was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954.

Harmon’s mother was Elyse Knox. She was a fashion designer who modeled her own clothing. During the War, Knox was a pinup girl, with her face on posters sent to the military. She also acted in 39 films, but had retired by the time Mark Harmon was born. He was the baby of the family.

During an interview with TVLine.com, Mark Harmon said he figured out he had a famous dad when the family visited Ann Arbor, Mich.

“My parents kept things real,” Mark Harmon said. “I had no idea they were famous. In fact, it didn’t hit me until one day when I was riding in the car with my father in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was maybe 8 and could barely see above the dashboard. And we stopped at a crosswalk. Suddenly we were surrounded by people who recognized my dad and were really thrilled to see him.

Harmon laughed at the thought. “I remember looking at this man I thought I knew so well and thinking, “Who are you?”

Mark Harmon Followed Paths of Both Parents

Mark Harmon followed the paths of both his parents. He played college football like his dad, except the younger Harmon was a quarterback who started for the UCLA Bruins. And, he made his career in acting, like his mother, although at 69, he’s not retiring any time soon. Harmon’s two sisters also married into famous families. His sister Kristin, who died in 2018, was married to singer Ricky Nelson. And his sister Kelly married John DeLorean, who founded DeLorean Motor Company.

The actor also married another famous actor, Pam Dawber. She was Mindy on the sitcom Mork and Mindy and then Samantha on My Sister Sam. Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber married in 1987. For a famous Hollywood couple, they are very low-key and private, by design.

Harmon told TVLine.com: “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.”

He’s played Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS for 18 years. He signed up for season 19 last month.