‘NCIS’ Star Mark Harmon Said One Moment Changed ‘Course’ of His Career in Hollywood

by Joe Rutland

“NCIS” star Mark Harmon was looking for a path to follow after college football. A nudge from an old guy swimming helped out.

Harmon, in a 2019 story for Parade Magazine, recalls his time as a lifeguard in the 1970s. Now we mentioned an old guy swimming, right? This happened to not just be any old guy.

It was Ozzie Nelson, who starred along with his wife Harriet in “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” TV show. That show also featured Nelson’s son Ricky, who would become a music star.

Anyway, Harmon, who played college football at UCLA, recalls Nelson joining him on the beach after a swim.

‘NCIS’ Star Takes Up Ozzie Nelson’s Offer To Play Role In TV Show

“We’d sit underneath my toward and we’d talk about big band music, as Ozzie started as a big band leader and Harriet was a vocalist,” he said. Harmon said one day, Nelson happened to need a fill-in actor for his “Ozzie’s Girls” spinoff show.

Harmon, who plays Jethro Gibbs on “NCIS,” took his friend up on the opportunity in a 1973 episode called “The Candidate.” He would shadow Nelson on the set and even go into the editing room with the veteran radio and TV star. That experience, Harmon said, led him to a career in acting.

“That changed my course,” Harmon said in the Parade interview. Indeed it did. Sadly, Ozzie Nelson died in 1975 from liver cancer. Harmon, though, would get guest-starring roles on 1970s hits like “Emergency!,” “Police Woman,” “Adam-12,” and “Laverne & Shirley.”

Harmon Takes On Roles That Eventually Land Him ‘St. Elsewhere’ Part

The “NCIS” star worked his way up the acting ladder until Harmon earned a full-fledged starring role on “St. Elsewhere” from 1983-86. He played Dr. Robert Caldwell which, ultimately, led Harmon in 1986 to be tagged as People Magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive.”

The connection with Nelson, though, didn’t stop with Ozzie’s death. Harmon is the uncle of actress Tracy Nelson, daughter of the late Ricky Nelson.

So “NCIS” has been a part of Harmon’s life since he started playing Gibbs in 2003. It has become a mainstay of the CBS lineup since its first season, and will be back for its 19th season this fall.

Harmon has been married to actress Pam Dawber since 1987. They have two sons, Sean and Ty. Dawber, for classic TV fans, is best remembered for her role on “Mork and Mindy” with the late Robin Williams. She has been on “NCIS” herself and there’s some possibility that Harmon and Dawber might strike a fire together romantically.

Fans of the show will have to wait and see if this happens next season. Meanwhile, “NCIS” reruns are available on USA Network, Paramount, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming platforms.