Closer reveals the truth behind the NCIS star’s 31-year marriage to Mork & Mindy’s Pam Dawber.
Pam Dawber had a premonition. “I feel like this is a good time to leave town,” she told husband Mark Harmon before whisking him and their two sons off to visit relatives. It was a wise move: An earthquake struck soon afterward, causing damage to their home near Santa Monica, including a collapsed chimney and more, which killed the family’s pet goldfish. “I’m so grateful we weren’t there,” Pam later said. “My kids would’ve been traumatized.”
It doesn’t take the investigative skills of NCIS ’ Leroy Jethro Gibbs to deduce why Mark’s so glad he married Pam. “He thinks she’s the smartest, best person he knows — he takes her seriously,” an insider tells Closer, who adds of the 1994 quake, “She felt it, and he listened. He’s joked and called her a witch.”
If that’s true, Pam’s had Mark under her spell for more than 30 years. The actors, now both 67, met in the mid-’80s, when Mark was finishing up his run as a womanizing doctor on the drama St. Elsewhere, and Pam was playing a photographer on the sitcom My Sister Sam. They were both in their 30s and had each endured a few failed romances — him with actresses Cristina Raines (his co-star in the primetime soap Flamingo Road) and Heather Locklear, and her with skier Weems Westfeldt and model Phil Coccioletti.
They were introduced by a friend at a party, and their chemistry was instant. Mark fit Pam’s description of what she was seeking in a man: strong, intelligent, independent, sensitive, warm and funny. “He’s fabulous,” she concluded. For Mark, the feeling was mutual.
The couple wed in a low-key ceremony
attended by only a few close family members and friends in
1987. Pam didn’t want a media circus like her friend Julianne Phillips had during her wedding to Bruce Springsteen in 1985. “Julianne was in tears almost the entire time,” said Pam. “There were helicopters hovering over her parents’ house.”
Yet almost immediately, the couple’s bond was tested when they landed in the middle of a tabloid firestorm: Mark and Pam fought his sister, Kristin, for custody of her 12-yearold son, Sam. Mark’s older sibling had been married to hard-partying rocker Ricky Nelson and had gotten mixed up with drugs, and Mark and Pam feared for the boy’s safety.
Mark convinced Kristin to enter rehab. “Nobody but my brother could have talked me into this because I trusted him,” she said. An agreement was worked out in which Kristin retained custody of Sam, but Mark got visitation rights, and the case was set-
tled. Kristin died of a heart attack at 72 in April, and Mark and Pam have always remained a major part of Sam’s life, supporting him financially and otherwise.
“Their father is already iconic enough for two boys. I am just their mom.” — Pam, talking about sons Ty and Sean
A QUIET STRENGTH
Aside from this family drama, Mark and Pam’s marriage has been smooth sailing. They’re both intensely private people who enjoy a mellow life together. “It’s not even a choice — it’s who we are,” says Mark. “We stay home. A lot. I’m not a Twitter guy or a Facebook guy. Pam and I have both made a living in this business, and still there’s a part of it that’s just not natural.”
The couple share similar values and interests: hiking, camping, traveling, home renovation and animals (they’re dog lovers). “They’re both appreciative to have found each other — they know how treacherous Hollywood marriages can be,” says the in-
sider. “They have gratitude, appreciation for each other and steadiness.”
Mark and Pam have taken an equally down-to-earth approach as the parents of Sean, 30, and Ty, 26. “They felt they had to be strict so Sean and Ty would not succumb to what many celebrities’ kids do: drugs, alcohol and partying,” says the insider. “And it worked — their kids are terrific.”
Sean was born shortly before My Sister Sam was canceled, and Pam chose to put her career on the back burner to focus on motherhood. “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 says. “I was very happy to do it.”
THEIR LIFE NOW
Pam has occasionally returned to work, reuniting with Mork & Mindy co-star Robin Williams on his sitcom The Crazy Ones only a few months before his suicide in 2014. Yet she remains essentially retired: “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,” she says. As she sees it, “Two people can’t work all the time in show business and stay married.”
And Mark has been busy solving naval crimes for the past 15-plus seasons on CBS’ top-rated hit NCIS. “Pam would love for Mark to slow down or retire so they could travel more and have more freedom,” says the insider. “But only if he wants to do it.”
Mark says he’ll quit under one condition. “If I ever witness the writers walking in with their heads down, feeling they’ve done it all, that would be the time to say, ‘I think I’m done here,’” he explains. “But there is still a real feeling of creativity and a sense of reinvention on our set.”
The couple feel no need to reinvent their marriage — if it ain’t broke, why fix it? — but Mark and Pam did renew their vows to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary last year. “It was simple and lovely,” the insider reports. “Nothing flashy — just like them.”
Theirs is the rare Hollywood marriage that has only grown stronger over time. “Mark truly adores her,” the insider says. And, as Pam puts it, “Mark’s one of those guys who makes you say, ‘They don’t make ’em like that anymore.’ ”
— Reporting by Rick Egusquiza
“When you work out problem areas, your life falls into place,” says Pam, with Mark. “My life has really falleninto place.”
“They’re best friends,” an insider says of Mark and Pam. “They understand each other’s need for privacy and a low-key life.” Sean (with his mother, Pam) has played the younger version of his father’s character on NCIS. Mark became a father figure to nephew Sam after his dad, Ricky Nelson, diedand mom Kristin (inset) battled drugs.
21 1. Mark (with David McCallum) has signed on to continue playing Gibbs on NCIS through its current 16th season. 2. “Our lives changed so fast,” Pam says of the overnight stardom she and Robin Williams experienced thanks to Mork & Mindy.3. “St. Elsewhere was certainly a great show,” says Mark of the drama. 4. Rebecca Schaeffer, Pam’s My Sister Sam costar, was murdered at 21 by a stalker a year after the show was canceled.