‘NCIS’ Star Mark Harmon Really Didn’t Want to Get into Acting, Did Odd Jobs After UCLA Stardom

by Emily Morgan

For nearly 50 years, Mark Harmon has had an incredibly successful acting career. During his time in entertainment, he’s starred in three wildly popular and long-running TV series: “St. Elsewhere,” “Chicago Hope,” and of course his namesake, playing Leroy Jethro Gibbs on “NCIS.” He’s also played blockbuster films like Freaky FridayWyatt Earp, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Yet, initially, Harmon’s future was set to pan out much differently. In fact, Mark Harmon didn’t grow up wanting to be an actor. After his college football stint at UCLA, he worked several odd jobs. 

During an interview in 2018 on “The Rich Eisen Show,” the Gibbs actor revealed what he did before breaking into acting. 

“I had a bunch of different starts,” the veteran actor began. “I did a lot of jobs, I sold shoes, I was in law school for a little bit. He added that he, “worked for Adidas for about eight months, and before that, I was doing merchandising in radio in Los Angeles.” 

Mark Harmon’s Famous Parents

Yet, Mark Harmon started with famous roots. His father, Tom Harmon, was a well-known sports figure. 

He was a Heisman Trophy-winning football player for the University of Michigan and the Los Angeles Rams. Later, he became a spokesman and sports broadcaster. He was also a World War II hero and an actor. 

In the entertainment world, Harmon’s mother, Elyse Knox, became an actress. She’s now known for her appearances in the “Joe Palooka” series of B-movies and her role in the 1942 film, The Mummy’s Tomb.”

Instead of pursuing a pro football career, Harmon decided to take acting classes and go to auditions after college. He started booking gigs and even got the opportunity to work with legends like Jason Robards, Karl Malden, Michael Caine, and José Ferrer.

“They were all humble; they all gave me valuable time and camaraderie and advice,” he said.

Even though Mark Harmon never considered acting until after college, he would wind up becoming one of TV’s most prolific figures. During the early-to-late ’70s, he booked several small parts and had guest-starring roles on famous sitcoms. His first was the short-lived Harriet and Ozzie Nelson show, “Ozzie’s Girls,” in 1973. 

He also appeared on the first season of “Laverne and Shirley” and shows such as “Emergency!” He was also well on his way to receiving an Emmy nomination for playing Robert Dunlap in the miniseries “Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years” in 1976. Afterward, he had a minor role in “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.”