Mark Harmon and his wife, Pam Dawber, have been married for 31 years. So you could argue that the two actors are one of few couples in Hollywood whose relationship has stood the test of time. But now Dawber has revealed an astonishing secret about the couple’s decades-long union.
Harmon is of course best known for his long-standing role as the star of NCIS. Born in Burbank, California, on September 2, 1951, he is the son of actress Elyse Knox and football legend Tom Harmon. Yet although he’s now an extremely successful television actor, Harmon started out his working life as a carpenter.
The 67-year-old actually began acting in the 1970s but didn’t get his big break until the next decade. In 1981, in fact, he appeared in the short-lived TV series Flamingo Road. Then, two years later, he landed the role of Dr. Robert Caldwell in St. Elsewhere. Harmon also portrayed notorious serial killer Ted Bundy in 1986’s The Deliberate Stranger.
After that, the actor went on to become a household name with performances in Reasonable Doubts, Chicago Hope and The West Wing, among other things. He then landed the lead role of Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS, which he has starred in since 2003. And throughout his rise to superstardom, Harmon has had Dawber by his side.
For her part, Dawber – who was born on October 18, 1951, in Detroit, Michigan – actually started her career as a model. In fact, People reported in 1987 that she strutted her stuff in Detroit-based fashion shows not long after finishing high school. She also apparently put in performances at auto trade conventions.
She then began studying at Oakland Community College. Reportedly, it had been Dawber’s plan to put in some time here before going on to complete a four-year course at a larger college. But these intentions were seemingly put on hold when she joined a friend on a trip to New York City.
You see, Dawber was also encouraged to take her modeling portfolio with her to NYC and meet with some agencies. And it seemingly didn’t take long before she was snapped up by one of them. In fact, the student landed an exclusive contract with Wilhelmina and soon started working in front of the camera.
Dawber then shot advertising campaigns that appeared in the pages of magazines. And she made good money from them too. According to People, indeed, she relocated to the Big Apple and was taking home $50,000 a year for her work. The budding star also found herself on TV commercials, and she soon made a critical decision that would change her career for good.
That’s because Dawber seemingly caught the acting bug and set her sights on a new profession. So in a bid to try and make it in Hollywood, she began taking acting classes and working on her vocal abilities. And the budding star’s efforts to learn the craft paid off soon enough.
In fact, Dawber landed a central part in a stage production of the musical comedy Sweet Adeline at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut. And it was there in 1976 that she was noticed and asked to audition for a part in the TV series Tabitha. And while that didn’t work out, the opportunity eventually led to the role of a lifetime in Mork & Mindy.
Of course, Dawber and her co-star Robin Williams, both unknown actors at the time, had their careers launched by the series about an alien who comes to Earth. The show actually had a wildly successful run from 1978 to 1982. And when Mork & Mindy finally came to an end, Dawber then landed a lead role in My Sister Sam. After that series ended in 1988, though, Dawber took a step back from the spotlight.
The previous year, you see, the actress had married Harmon in a private wedding. Then on April 25, 1988, the pair welcomed their son Sean, while their son Ty was born on June 25, 1992. And almost 30 years after the couple tied the knot, Dawber finally spoke out about her marriage.
During an interview with Entertainment Tonight in November 2016, Dawber shared the secret to their rock-solid relationship. And – perhaps surprisingly – she explained that putting her family first and leaving fame behind is what has kept her marriage strong. “I don’t think two people can work all the time in show business and stay married,” she said.
Dawber added that she had already had a very successful career by the time she had become a mom, so stepping back from Hollywood hadn’t been a big decision to make. She said, “I was in a number one show. I had my own deal. I got to do Broadway. I got to do musical theater. I got to do cartoon voices. I did everything you can do in this business, and then I had children, and it’s like, ‘I’m not going to chase this fame thing.’”
The star also revealed that motherhood had totally changed her priorities. Dawber said, “I wanted to drive my kids to school. I wanted to be there for their birthdays and bring cupcakes and donuts and do the school festivals and all that, and I did.” She later added, “I got to teach in their art class and so it was a different life then, and I was very happy to do it.”
The revelations were all the more surprising because Harmon and Dawber are famously private and rarely talk about their relationship in the media. Yet the 66-year-old declared that this was also part of what had ensured that their marriage lasted. The couple prefer to keep their family life out of the public eye, Dawber said, and she apparently disapproves of celebrities who do the opposite.
“Notice you don’t see us in the magazines,” the mom-of-two said when told that she and Harmon were thought of as the “It” couple. Dawber added, “When you’re married, that’s real life. And to go and plaster your kids… I’m sorry. I’m not for that.”
This attitude toward fame is actually nothing new, though. In fact, from the time that they were engaged, Dawber and Harmon have seemingly made a conscious effort to protect their relationship from the public eye. As she told People in 1987, “We’re not trying to keep something secret, but if you don’t want it totally exploited by the press, you have to.”
Dawber also readily admitted in her 1987 interview that she hadn’t had much luck in relationships until she’d met Harmon. She even stated that she’d had “a bad love affair here and there” before finding her true love. As it turns out, the couple had actually first encountered each other in March 1986 when they’d attended a gathering hosted by a shared acquaintance.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Yet although Dawber and Harmon are now slightly more relaxed when it comes to discussing their relationship, their privacy has always been something that has stayed with them. So when the stars tied the knot in 1987, for instance, the union took place in a small ceremony with just a few of their nearest and dearest present.
Mind you, for Dawber, Harmon and their two sons, it isn’t hard to keep their personal lives under the radar. Harmon even touched upon this issue in a November 2017 interview with TV Insider. He said, “It’s not even a choice. It’s who we are. We stay home. A lot.” And what’s more, the couple ensure that they steer clear of social media.
Dawber and Harmon have actually passed those same outlooks down to their children too. Harmon added, “I’m not a Twitter… 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.”
The couple’s sons, Sean and Ty, are now 30 and 26, respectively, and the elder brother is following in his parents’ footsteps by working as an actor. He has in fact appeared in several episodes of NCIS as a young version of his father’s character. But Dawber admits that her offspring haven’t watched her work – and she’s fine with that state of affairs.
“My kids have never seen anything I’ve done. I’m just their mom. They don’t care about what I did. They care about what they are doing,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “They want their parents to care about what they are doing.”
And she confessed that her sons are dealing with the strains of being the children of celebrities mostly because of Harmon’s success, so she wouldn’t want to add to that. “Their father is already iconic enough for two boys,” Dawber said. “I am just the mom.”
After she revealed how she makes it work with her husband, fans voiced their support for her decision to swap the spotlight for her family. “Pam and Mark, my dream couple. They are so beautiful together,” one person shared. “Love the thought of them as a great Hollywood couple who are keeping it real.”
Another added, “Mark is my favorite actor, and it’s excellent that Mark and Pam have such a beautiful relationship. Love you guys.” And one commenter agreed, “Mark Harmon always kept his family away from his acting work. That is meritorious. Work and live your life without complications of the press.”
Yet although Dawber has put her kids first, she continued with small roles in television films and shows after becoming a mom. In 2014, for example, her Mork & Mindy co-star Williams persuaded her to appear in an episode of his comedy series The Crazy Ones. This was the same year as Williams’ death, and Dawber broke down in tears as she discussed her late friend with Entertainment Tonight.
“I hadn’t seen Robin for 20 years,” she said. And she added, “I did that episode because I wanted to be with Robin. I wanted to see Robin. That was a gift. That was such a gift.” Dawber’s most recent role was an episode of The Odd Couple that served as a tribute to Marshall, who created the original series in 1970 and died in 2016.
Meanwhile, Harmon continues to star in NCIS, which is now in its 16th season. And although the couple seldom talk about their romance, it’s clear that they couldn’t be more in love. In fact, Dawber previously told InStyle, “He’s one of those guys who makes you say, ‘They don’t make them like that anymore.’”
So it’s seemingly undeniable that Dawber is the love of Harmon’s life. Yet the couple weren’t childhood sweethearts. On the contrary, the pair didn’t marry until they were both 35. And Harmon believes that the fact that they found each other a little later on in life has actually helped their marriage to stay strong.
During a February 2019 interview with People, for instance, Harmon explained that the timing of his and Dawber’s relationship was hugely beneficial to them. He said, “We were both in our thirties when we got married, so hopefully the stupid stuff we did earlier. That’s probably the closest I have to what the key is.”
Yet while Harmon and Dawber may seem like the perfect couple, they do still have their differences like everyone else. And the NCIS actor claimed that not always seeing eye to eye isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, he revealed that Dawber was actually against one of the big decisions he made in his career.
In 1987, you see, Harmon starred in a movie called Summer School. The comedy saw him play a teacher who reluctantly gets stuck teaching – you guessed it – summer school and has to help his apathetic students pass a crucial test. Yet although the Carl Reiner film ended up being a success, Dawber had been opposed to her husband taking on the part.
Harmon had, however, been keen for the opportunity to team up with Summer School’s director. He told People, “I wanted to do it just because I was excited to work with Carl Reiner. That was a game changer for me, like, ‘He thinks I can do this?!’ and that meant a lot.”
“Pam said, ‘Don’t do that. Don’t do this movie,’” Harmon continued. And while he ended up going against her wishes, he now thinks that their differences are positive. The star added, “We don’t generally like the same thing, and that’s been healthy for us, actually.”
That wasn’t the only feature of his personal life that Harmon elaborated upon in the unusually candid interview, though. In fact, the normally private star opened up about several aspects of his marriage. And one of the things that the actor spoke about is the striking ring that he sometimes wears in place of a wedding band.
You see, the piece of jewelry is designed to look like an eagle’s head. And the ring apparently holds special importance to Harmon, despite the fact that he’s not entirely sure where it came from. He told People, “We think it was my grandfather’s because it was in a box of things that my dad left.”
And although Harmon doesn’t always wear a traditional band, it’s still seemingly important for the actor to have some kind of ring on his wedding finger – most of the time. When the star is filming, for example, he won’t wear anything on that hand. But as soon as the cameras stop rolling, Harmon ensures that the whole world knows that he’s married.
In fact, Harmon supposedly likes showing off that he’s a taken man – because he feels so lucky to be with Dawber. He continued to People, “I wear it or a few others I have because when I’m not shooting, I like to make sure I have something on my ring finger, because I’m proud to be married, and I’m proud of who I’m married to. I’m just so proud of her.”