The Phone Call That Changed NCIS Star Mark Harmon's Life

Actor Mark Harmon, best known for playing special agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs in CBS' "NCIS," one of the longest-running television series currently on the air, once had a phone call that changed his life even though it had nothing to do with work. Unlike Harmon's most famous character, who went through four marriages onscreen, the TV star hasn't switched out as many wives, marrying just once. In fact, he managed to woo his real-life partner over the phone. Harmon wed fellow actor Pam Dawber in 1987 and the two are still going strong. 

According to People, when a friend tried setting him up with Dawber back in 1986, Harmon cut right to the chase and called her up. They hit it off immediately, getting married just a year later. Despite not sharing Gibbs' romantic history, Harmon obviously does reflect his character's directness. Harmon and Dawber have since welcomed two sons together while managing to excel in their careers at the same time. 

Both were prominent figures in their time, with Harmon starring in popular '80s and '90s series like "St. Elsewhere" and "Reasonable Doubts" while Dawber gained fame through "Mork & Mindy" in 1978, alongside Robin Williams, and later in the '80s sitcom "My Sister Sam." The actors have always kept a relatively low profile when it comes to their relationship, which may be the secret to their long-lasting marriage.

Mark Harmon always wanted an enduring marriage

In a 2023 interview with People, Mark Harmon shared the anticipation he felt before meeting his now-wife, Pam Dawber. Eager to connect, the actor took matters into his own hands when a mutual friend suggested a group date, asking, "Can I just call? Can I get a number and just cold call?" Harmon went ahead with this bold move, and after a brief screening, Dawber picked up the phone, ultimately agreeing to a private outing with him. 

In contrast to his "NCIS" character, Harmon expressed reluctance about conforming to Hollywood's expectations regarding commitment. Before meeting Dawber, he shared in a 1986 interview with People: "I'm real monogamous by nature. When I marry, I want it to be everything this town says it can't be," alluding to Hollywood's normalization of infidelity and divorce. Harmon elaborated, "I'm not into catting around."

Dawber was smitten with the '80s heartthrob, opening up about their relationship a year after they had initially met. In her own 1987 chat with People, she confirmed that Harmon checked all the boxes for her as she prepared to move in with him. "He's fabulous," Dawber concluded. Despite their solid relationship, the couple seldom delves into discussions about the dynamics that make their connection work so well.

The NCIS star credits maturity for their lasting connection

Mark Harmon and Pam Dawber mostly keep their relationship to themselves, but on occasion, they do like to gush about each other a little bit. In 2019, Harmon opened up to People about the secret to their lasting marriage, noting, "We were both in our thirties when we got married, so hopefully the stupid stuff we did earlier." Additionally, their differing perspectives and sense of humor often helps them navigate everyday life. 

"That's the fun part," Harmon told the outlet in 2023, adding, "We share many things and yet we're really different." The celebrity couple's inclination toward privacy has been consistent throughout their relationship, as Dawber also noted in her 1987 interview with People. As the "Mork & Mindy" star explained, "We're not trying to keep something secret, but if you don't want it totally exploited by the press, you have to."

Aside from finding the secret ingredient to a happy marriage, Harmon and Dawber have also successfully joined forces onscreen. Dawber joined the "NCIS" cast for a few episodes in 2018, as reported by Entertainment Weekly, just before Harmon wrapped his 18th season on the legendary series. Although their characters weren't romantically involved, the couple's real-life connection added an authentic touch to their onscreen dynamic.